Mar 4, 2013

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Miscellany 44: A Literary Miscellany

Sonnets vs Free Verse… Why do we misquote things so often?… and a look at CS Lewis’s use of analogies. It’s a literary miscellany!

Micah Mattix, my colleague at HBU, sent me a pair of very interesting pieces he’d written on poetic form. We’d just finished a podcast recording session for The City in which we sparred a bit over form in poetry. I’m a poet who works in closed forms (primarily the sonnet) and I generally view free-verse poetry with a jaundiced eye; Mattix argued that the distinction generally made between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ forms is a false distinction. This piece, provocatively entitled “Is Free Verse Immoral?” makes a stirring case for the validity of open forms…

…which I agree with. See, it’s not that open forms are inherently bad; it’s that (I would argue)  it results in the production of more bad poetry. It may be equally hard to write a great free-verse poem and a great sonnet, but a sonnet’s technical demands are such that a bad sonneteer may just give up. A good free-verse poem demands a high level of understanding of poetic form, so as to be able to create structure in the absence of a regular meter or other form. And as it turns out, Mattix also sent me a very interesting piece on poetic form.

It turns out we actually agreed on more than one might expect. And this piece offers a very interesting look at Victorian verse forms (including insights into my favorite poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins) Mattix closes with this:

Thankfully, a renewed interest in form is gaining momentum. The New Criterion’s poetry prize, the Contemporary Poetry Review, two new writing programs that emphasize the craft of form, and an increasing number of talented “formal” poets all point to this growing interest in poetic form. Here, however, the myth of stable English verse-forms, rejected by dissipated bohemians and now in need of recovery, is an equally tempting but false narrative. No doubt a closer attention to patterned language, to sound, to the freedom of control, is in need of recovery. This recovery, however, should continue, not merely replicate, the formal successes of the past.

On a slightly different note… the misquoting of poetry (among other things).

People do it all the time. Take Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well” is really “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”  And then there the manifold and maddening misquotations of C.S. Lewis – an entire Pinterest cottage industry.  One case in point: Lewis did NOT say “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This is actually from Walter Miller’s novel A Canticle for Leibowitz — and, what’s worse, it’s totally contrary to Lewis’s theology; it presents a gnostic view of the body as secondary, contrary to Lewis’s incarnational understanding of human beings as being body+soul. Why do these misquotes (or sheer inventions) flourish? Here’s an interesting article that takes a look at some of the reasons why.

And finally — speaking of C.S. Lewis, but getting him right this time — here’s a very interesting piece by Malcolm Guite on Lewis’s use of analogies. Guite unpacks one particular analogy that Lewis uses in Mere Christianity, and asks us to consider why it’s so effective. He concludes:

It’s not just that thinking with analogies helps us to understand the things of God, the very fact that we can think with analogies at all is part of the evidence that there is a God!

Lewis’s analogies work so well because they are found in and drawn from the mind of God expressed for all time in Jesus Christ.


Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.



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