Friday, October 7, 2016

Drawing Closer to Christ with Great Poetry from George Herbert {A TOS Review}

I have to be honest with you, poetry is not now, nor has it ever been, something I have been able to understand. I enjoy simple kids' rhyming poems, but long poems that have deep meaning? Nope. I just can't seem to wrap my mind around them. So, when the opportunity arose to review Working It Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert, I was intrigued. I had never heard of George Herbert before, but I was willing to give this a try when I read the information on the Everyday Education, LLC site that stated this could be a way to deepen my devotional reading. 

George Herbert was a 17th century poet who was also a priest in the Anglican Church. Prior to this he had been an instructor, and then an orator at Cambridge before becoming a member of Parliament. He is most definitely known for his poetry, which he had an interest in from a young age. It is said that he was C.S. Lewis's favorite lyric poet.

As I wasn't familiar with his poetry, before I received my digital download, I had plans of trying to read the poetry with the children. However, when I started reading through the book, I realized the poems would probably be over the children's heads. So, I have been using these poems during my personal devotional time. 

Working It Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert is written by Joseph L. Womack. Mr. Womack's analysis of George Herbert's poems focuses on the movement of thought within each poem. Compiled in this 216 page book are 51 poems. These poems are divided into the following topics:
  • Looking Back, Moving Forward
  • Letting Go
  • Confession
  • Grace
  • Separation 
  • Petition
  • Praise
  • Depending on God
  • Grief
  • Prayer
  • Special Blessings of the Church
All of the above topics have between 2 and 6 poems. There are also 10 topics that only have 1 poem each.
  • Dust to Dust (and lessons learned)
  • Rebellion (and submission)
  • Brevity
  • Not Understanding the Ways of God or Self
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety and Living in the Present Moment
  • God Within Us
  • God the Architect 
  • Poetry
  • The Bible
I really wasn't sure if I wanted to start at the beginning and just work my way through the book, or choose a topic and work on those poems. I started out at what is said to be the best place to start, the beginning, in this case, a poem titled "The Glance." So, during my devotional time in the morning, I would read the poem, then I would write a part of it down in my prayer journal (I always left enough room for the entire poem and analysis, even though I was only writing a small section to start with and my daily prayers and journaling continued on the following pages). Each day I only worked on one section of the poem, maybe a stanza, or maybe just a couple of lines or so, depending upon how the poem was broken up. Most of the time I was taking a week to go through the analysis. 

Each poem's analysis is broken into 3 sections, in addition to the poem itself.
  • The Poem 
  • The Big Picture (a general overview of the entire poem)
  • The Parts of the Picture (a look at each stanza or part in more detail, looking at the development of thought)
  • The Parts of the Picture Come Together (looking at how the poem comes together)
After these sections there are Reflection questions and Scriptures for Further Reflection.

In order to fully understand what the poet was writing about, a reader really needs to understand what the poet was going though at the time of the writing. That is one thing that is very helpful in these analyses. In The Big Picture section, Mr. Womack shares what George Herbert was experiencing in his life, if applicable. As these poems really delve into George Herbert's feelings, emotions, and religious experiences, this is quite helpful.

Reading Mr. Womack's insights into these poems has really opened my eyes to the meanings and relationships in the poems. Sadly, I still am not seeing these things when I read the poems myself. But when I reread the poem after reading through the Parts of the Picture section, I can usually see what it is the author is getting at.

For example, this is the first stanza of the poem "The Flower."

"How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away  
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing."

When I first read this poem, I had somewhat of an inkling on what was meant by the Lord's returns, as they relate to flowers coming back in spring after the cold winter. However, I couldn't fathom what lines 3 and 4 meant. Though I was able to understand the last three lines. After reading Mr. Womack's analysis, I was able to understand that there is pleasure in seeing the flowers, not just for being beautiful flowers, but because they are a sign that frost and winter are past. This parallels to grace returning "after a time of spiritual aridity."

The remainder of this poem talks about times of renewal after hard times. Mr. Womack has a way of explaining how each of the lines and stanzas work together, making me see what I didn't see when I first read the poem.

Here are some of the insights I received and wrote down from this poem's analysis.

The Lord can and does renew.
We await Paradise, but we can also experience peace that passes understanding here on earth.
Speaks of the dangers of pride and the need to rely on God and his power.
A relationship with God can have ups and downs but He is always there for us.
Lean on the Lord. Trust Him. Go to Him when down, he will lift us up.
The movement was described as a gliding, and the analysis talks about it being an up and down movement. I was also thinking that perhaps we can also glide on the wind of the Holy Spirit, tossed about by life, but can cling to Him and trust Him to take us where we belong.

I also appreciated the Bible verses that were shared at the end of each analysis. On the last day of the week, I would spend time reading each of these verses/passages, and I found them to be quite relevant to the poem. To continue on using my example of "The Flower," here are a few of the Bible verses that were suggested for further reflection:

Psalm 51:10 - Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Lamentations 5:21 - Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; renew our days as of old."
Isaiah 40:29-31 - He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

As suggested in the introduction, it is very helpful to write out the poem and recite it out loud. I am hoping, that after a year of reading and digging into these poems, I will be able to see these details without being shown them. Working on a poem a week, I will be able to have all of these poems read and analyzed by this time next year. I pray that these devotional readings will help me to continue to draw closer to Jesus.

Though I had never heard of the 17th century poet before, I am glad I now have a chance to read his works. Working It Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert is available in PDF digital download format like I received, or as a physical paperback book. I would definitely say the book is more suited for older children and adults. Tabitha has expressed an interest in the poems, so I may start reading them to the children, just to see how it goes.

You can find Everyday Education, LLC/Janice Campbell on Pinterest, Facebook (Janice Campbell), Facebook (Excellence in Literature), LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

As Homeschool Review Crew members, we were actually given a choice of 3 different products. You can check out my Crew Mates' thoughts on Working It Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert, or Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting, or Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers. Just click on the banner below:

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

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