CC 300 FX - Topics in Literature: From Parable to Paradox: The Poetry of Faith

3 Credits
TR 12:00-1:15 pm - Professor Clark
Cross-listed with ENGL 390AX

What does faith look and sound like in language? Are certain words, images, and ways of speaking inherently sacred? How do poets of faith respond to The Word through words? Can poetry bring us closer to God?

Thomas Aquinas argued that “poetic knowledge is of things which on account of a defect of truth cannot be grasped by reason and that is why reason must be seduced…” In other words, we need artistic seduction to lead our imaginations past the limits of reason. Approaching the relationship between verse and religion from another direction, Marilynne Robinson wrote that “great theology is always a kind of giant and intricate poetry.” Of course this does not mean that all poetry, or even all great poetry, should function as theology. What these quotes do suggest is that poetic language, in its complexity of thought, in its incantatory sounds and rhythms, and in its frequently associative logic, offers unique avenues for the imaginative exploration of faith and religion.

In order to answer questions like those above and to imaginatively explore faith ourselves, this course will survey a range of modern poets who self-identify as religious believers. While the majority of our study will be focused on the wealth of 20th Century Christian poetry, we will read poets writing out of Jewish, Mormon, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions as well. It is also important to note that although the subject matter of this course is deeply religious, one need not be a believer to interrogate artistic representations of belief, and, as we will see, the poetry of faith is sometimes inseparable from the poetry of religious doubt.

Texts will include:

Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing
Lisa Russ Spaar, Satin Cash
W.H. Auden, Selected Poems
Khaled Mattawa, Amorisco
Czeslaw Milosz, Selected Poems
Louise Gluck, Wild Iris
T.S. Eliot, Selected Poems
Susanna Childress, Entering the House of Awe