Poetry and Knowledge
© 1997 by Dorothy E. Robbins
When writing poetry, be sure to know your subject well
The title of this offering on poetry clues you in that we will be
discussing the connection between one's writing poetry and one's
background. When you write poetry, don't you always write about that
with which you are familiar? Your sorrows, your joys, that which you
found humorous or instructive? It is my contention that one ought
always to write about that of which one has a great deal of knowledge;
and, of course, it goes without saying one can write nothing about a
subject of which one is ignorant!
One of my suggestions to the prospective poet is to read good poetry
extensively. Along with that I know you will agree that knowing
one's subject well causes one to be able to write good poems. Are
you going to write a poem about a historical event, about a flower,
about cooking, about, well, anything? The best preparation is
research, research, research - unless you've already been deeply
involved with that subject.
"Being deeply involved with a subject" may mean that you are writing
about something that happened to you that has impressed you in such a
way that you cannot help expressing yourself. For instance, the
following poem was written after a most traumatic experience I once
had. Because of that it has touched the heart of others who have been
through difficult experiences. That is really what poetry is all
about: one heart speaking to another heart in such a way that we are
being used of the Lord to empathize with others. The verse of
Scripture that comes to my mind has to do with comfort. No doubt this
same verse has popped into your mind:
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us
in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which
are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are
comforted of God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Perhaps you will appreciate the thoughts behind "When Earthly Props
When earthly props are gone|
And you feel lost and down,
God is your strength:
When despair wants a room
To make your heart a tomb,
God is there:
It may look bad outside
And you want to run and hide;
God really cares:
For in the darkest night
There still shines one light:
You wish that you could see
What is going to be:
Your heart may beat with fear-it will.
But love can live there still-
And hope and faith can rout
The deepest fear and doubt
Not all of our poetry has to do with our emotions (although without
strong emotion our poetry will be shallow). Some of our poetry will
have to do with certain subjects. I love to write about historical
events. Such a poem is Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." I have to
admit that poem gives me a wonderful feeling of excitement and
patriotism. How I am moved to admire our Founding Fathers. Listen to
the sound of this poem:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear|
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,-
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and give the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by that steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindles the land into flame with its heat.
It was twelve by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meetinghouse windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled.-
How the farmers gave the ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
And so through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,-
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen and hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
We need messages like that today. And who better than poets can give
it out? But, as I said previously, it is so important to KNOW ONE'S
SUBJECT. How could Longfellow write such a poem (which, incidentally,
is much abridged for this article - you should read it all!) unless
he was familiar with the events of that time? And one's appreciation
deepens immensely when one is well acquainted with our history. That
brings me back to the thesis of this article: know your subject well
whether it is something you have already become acquainted with or
something about which you want to write.
I will close with a short poem that has meant much to me, a poem
that expresses wonderful truths from God's inerrant word:
The Way |
Oh, God, if thou wert only just
How could I come to thee?
If thou wert only righteousness,
How coulds't thou come to me?
But thou art also love
And through the Christ, thy son,
I dare to call thee Father,
And come, O, Righteous One.
Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum