The Oxford Book of Christian Verse

Excerpt

Religious emotion is the most sublime known to man. But, in Christian Europe at any rate, it has not proved the most fertile soil for poetry. Though the great religious poets have been equal to any, they have been fewer in number than the great secular poets. And a large proportion of religious verse is poor stuff. The average hymn is a by-word for forced feeble sentiment, flat conventional expression. And those poets who have invoked both the sacred and the profane muse have, with some striking exceptions, found themselves more comfortable with the profane. Herrick's imagination flowered more freely in The Hesperides than in The Noble Numbers--Cowper is remembered for John Gilpin rather than for The Olney Hymns.

All this is more interesting than surprising. The very loftiness of the religious sentiment is in part responsible. A writer's best poetry is usually the expression of his keenest feeling. And though many people have caught a passing whiff of pious emotion, only a few have felt it with the strength and the continuity that they feel sexual love or pleasure in nature. The faintness of their experience reflects itself in the verses in which they seek to communicate it.

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Oxford
Publication year:
  • 1940

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