The poetic imagination, or Where the story ends–redux

As you may know, I will be teaching a class on biblical poetry this year. This has sent me off to read some poetics and I was struck by the following from W.H. Auden, the great English poet of the last century:

“All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.”

Aside from the invigorating content itself, Auden’s description seems to me very biblical. That is, the events that are expressed in biblical poetry tend to be on that scale and in that area of experience. And I began to wonder whether it was possible to find a nice, quiet, domestic poem anywhere in the bible. Something along the lines of William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This is Just to Say”. Here it is:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Even the “Eishet Hayil” section of Mishlei/Proverbs — so often cited as praising the woman in her role as homemaker [but read it carefully and you’ll find that it’s quite subversive of those supposedly domestic virtues in some ways] — doesn’t have the peaceable hominess that this has. Perhaps the bible as a whole isn’t that concerned with happiness achieved so much as with the struggle to achieve happiness. In which case, it is like every other work of serious literature. As we all remember, “They lived happily ever after” is where the story ends.

Have a happy 5772.



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