Poetry Friday: “George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” by William Wenthe

Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

I love William Wenthe’s “George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” for many reasons. It is, of course, a tribute from a contemporary poet to one of the greatest poets in the English language—the seventeenth century “Metaphysical” poet who was also an Anglican pastor, as Wikipedia puts it, “of the small rural parish of Fugglestone St. Peter with Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.” (What’s not to love about “Fugglestone St. Peter?”) The scene Wenthe depicts is as simple as it could be: the poet-pastor encounters a man on the road whose horse has “fallen under its load.” The pastor conveys a message of compassion to the man, asking him to be merciful to the beast if he “loved himself,” but he doesn’t stop there; he puts his shoulder to work helping the man get himself and his horse sorted out. Wenthe places us directly in the scene by asking us to image what it sounded like: the simple music of rope and wicker and two grunting men. In short, the poet-pastor puts charity into action, making a poem of the encounter. An act of grace, a tuning of human instruments to the music of charity.

—Gregory Wolfe


George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” by William Wenthe

That if he loved himself
he should be merciful
to his beast: the gist
of what Herbert said
to the man whose horse had
“fallen under its load.” [Read more...]

The Harboring Silence, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

The following editorial statement from issue 86 of Image is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in creative writing graduation in Santa Fe on August 8, 2015.

rainierDenise Levertov’s poems nearly always contain vivid reminders of the oral nature of poetry, of poetry as speech addressed to a hearer, and thus in some sense always a conversation. In her seminal poem “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus,” Levertov chooses to honor the disciple of Jesus who, after the Resurrection, needed to place his hand inside Christ’s wound in order to believe.

“Didymus” means twin, and Levertov intends us to see that she is identifying herself as the other twin. Thomas will not be satisfied until he sticks his hand inside the emptiness in Christ’s flesh—the void or silence that will ultimately speak to him.

The poem, which is separated into the traditional parts of the Mass that are sung by a choir, begins with a Kyrie, a plea for mercy in the face of our terror at both our mortality and the potential destruction of the world itself. Here Levertov can only address a figure who is entirely “unknown.” [Read more...]

The Harboring Silence, Part 1

The following editorial statement from issue 86 of Image is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in creative writing graduation in Santa Fe on August 8, 2015.


fog“The great poet does not completely fill out the space of his theme with his words. He leaves a space clear, into which another and higher poet can speak.”

—Max Picard, The World of Silence


Graduation marks the moment when you leave the community that has surrounded you for two years for the solitude of your writing life. That community will continue to exist and even expand over the years, and will include many reunions and gatherings, but the level of intensity and support you’ve experience in the program may never be matched.

Which means that it’s now down to you and your laptop—the blank screen and the blinking cursor. Or, if you’re the old-fashioned sort, the empty page and the poised pen.

Perhaps you’re ready, willing, and able to fill the screen, but perhaps you’re nervous about all those white pixels. Will you have words to fill the emptiness? Will you be able to speak into the silence? [Read more...]

Dear Patheos

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Dear Patheos:

I hope you guys are doing well. I’ve been meaning to drop you a line and I’ve finally gotten around to it.

The last three years have gone by so quickly! Image journal’s blog “Good Letters” has flourished here, gaining many more readers than would ever have been possible if we’d remained sequestered on our own website.

We’ve been amazed at your growth and all the many fascinating conversations about religions that take place here. The rise of Patheos has certainly been one of the more remarkable stories among religious websites on the Internet.

I must say that you’ve treated us well. You regularly choose posts from “Good Letters” to be featured on your home page. That means a lot to us, precisely because our posts reflect Image’s identity as a literary quarterly seeking to bring the indirect, intuitive language of art to bear on the big religious questions. [Read more...]

Ray Bradbury Lives Forever

martian_chronicles_250On Labor Day weekend in 1932, a twelve year-old boy from Waukegan, Illinois, having just emerged from a family funeral, noticed a carnival tent by the shore of Lake Michigan and went to investigate. He had heard of a magician there named Mr. Electrico, who sat with a sword in hand on an electric chair with current passing through him, making his hair stand on end.

When Mr. Electrico stood up to knight the boy, making the current pass to him, he shouted: “Live forever!”

Ray Bradbury told this story about his childhood hundreds of times, insisting that the experience set him on the path to becoming a writer-magician, a teller of fantastic tales.

On one level this is a story about vocation—a baptism by electricity—but it is also a story about time and eternity, death and resurrection—themes that would preoccupy Bradbury over a writing career that spanned seven decades.

In all the tributes that have been paid to Bradbury since his death in June 2012—from lengthy newspaper obituaries to blog posts—one aspect of his life and work has been conspicuously missing: the centrality of faith. [Read more...]