When we read poetry, we turn down argument and crank up perception. That’s why theology in poetry—such as hymnody—can be so captivating, and articulate things in a way that is à point. This little nugget from Les Murray (†) strikes me in such a way:
THE KNOCKDOWN QUESTION
Why does God not spare the innocent?
The answer to that is not in the same world as the question so you would shrink from me in terror if I could answer it.
Les Murray, from “Poems the Size of Photographs” (2002)
On 29 April this year Les Murray (b. 1938) died. He was the nearest Australia had to a poet Laureate. He was not from a privileged background, though neither was he raised amidst abject poverty. He was born and grew up on the rural north coast of New South Wales, not too far from Taree, in a district with the delightful Australian name of Bunyah. He was a countryman and never an urban sophisticate. His characteristic physical bulk emerged while he was at school, making this time not wholly happy for him. The death of his mother after a miscarriage when he was 12 was no doubt a trauma that marked him. He was a republican, but no one is perfect; he was not obnoxious about it, and apparently delighted the Queen when he received from her hand the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1999. He was an idealist not an ideologue. He promoted the rights of the indigenous population in Australia before it was chic, or “woke,” to do so. Having been prone to depression, the black dog left him after he endured a coma of three weeks resulting from a tumour on his liver.