A New Anthology of Classic Christian Poetry

A New Anthology of Classic Christian Poetry October 23, 2018

When I was teaching, I longed to find a good anthology of classic Christian poetry.  One now exists:  The Soul in Paraphrase:  A Treasure of Classic Devotional Poems.

The collection was put together by the dean of Christianity and literature scholars, Dr. Leland Ryken, who also offers the right amount of help to open up these masterpieces for contemporary readers.  Here is what I said about the anthology when I was asked to write a blurb for the project:

“Some of the most profound devotional exercises—perhaps second only to the reading of Scripture—come from reading and contemplating Christian poetry. But readers today are ill-equipped to do so, knowing poetry only as either greeting-card verse or undecipherable puzzles. In this collection, Leland Ryken, the dean of Christian literary scholars, gives back to contemporary Christians their rich literary heritage. First, he selects works of the highest aesthetic and spiritual quality; and, second, he offers brief commentary that unpacks each poem’s meaning, artistry, and theological depths. In showing how poetry is a ‘trap for meditation’ (as Denis de Rougemont called it), Ryken has given us a resource that will greatly enhance our Christian devotions.”

Gene Edward Veith Jr., Professor of Literature Emeritus, Patrick Henry College

The collection includes both breadth and depth, with no less than 12 poems by George Herbert, whom I consider to be the greatest Christian lyric poet.  (The title of the book comes from Herbert’s poem “Prayer.”)

Here is a list of poems that are included and discussed in the volume.  From Crossway Books:

Table of Contents:

Editor’s Introduction

  1. Caedmon’s Hymn (Caedmon)
  2. The Dream of the Rood (Anonymous)
  3. O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be (Abelard)
  4. Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis)
  5. Sunset on Calvary (Anonymous)
  6. I Sing of a Maiden (Anonymous)
  7. Hand in Hand We Shall Take (Anonymous)
  8. Leave Me, O Love, Which Reachest but to Dust (Sidney)
  9. Most Glorious Lord of Life (Spenser)
  10. O Gracious Shepherd (Constable)
  11. When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Shakespeare)
  12. That Time of Year Thou Mayest in Me Behold (Shakespeare)
  13. Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds Admit Impediments (Shakespeare)
  14. Poor Soul, the Center of My Sinful Earth (Shakespeare)
  15. The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained (Shakespeare)
  16. Yet If His Majesty (Anonymous)
  17. Thou Hast Made Me, and Shall Thy Work Decay? (Donne)
  18. As Due by Many Titles I Resign (Donne)
  19. Oh My Black Soul (Donne)
  20. This Is My Play’s Last Scene (Donne)
  21. At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners (Donne)
  22. Death, Be Not Proud (Donne)
  23. Spit in My Face, You Jews (Donne)
  24. Batter My Heart (Donne)
  25. Wilt Thou Love God as He Thee? (Donne)
  26. A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior (Jonson)
  27. Aaron (Herbert)
  28. Redemption (Herbert)
  29. Prayer (Herbert)
  30. Virtue (Herbert)
  31. The Pulley (Herbert)
  32. The Agony (Herbert)
  33. Love  (Herbert)
  34. The Twenty-Third Psalm (Herbert)
  35. The Elixir (Herbert)
  36. Easter (Herbert)
  37. The Collar (Herbert)
  38. Sunday (Herbert)
  39. He Bore Our Griefs (Revius)
  40. His Savior’s Words, Going to the Cross (Herrick)
  41. His Litany to the Holy Spirit (Herrick)
  42. On Time (Milton)
  43. How Soon Hath Time  (Milton)
  44. Lady That in the Prime of Earliest Youth (Milton)
  45. When Faith and Love (Milton)
  46. Avenge, O Lord, Thy Slaughtered Saints (Milton)
  47. When I Consider How My Light Is Spent (Milton)
  48. Methought I Saw My Late Espouséd Saint (Milton)
  49. Greatly Instructed I Shall Hence Depart (Milton)
  50. Verses upon the Burning of our House (Bradstreet)
  51. Poverty (Traherne)
  52. Peace (Vaughan)
  53. Easter Hymn (Vaughan)
  54. The Dawning (Vaughan)
  55. The Waterfall (Vaughan)
  56. They Are All Gone into the World of Light (Vaughan)
  57. When in Mid-Air, the Golden Trump Shall Sound (Dryden)
  58. Veni, Creator Spiritus [“Come, Creator Spirit”] (Dryden)
  59. The Spacious Firmament on High (Addison)
  60. When Rising from the Bed of Death (Addison)
  61. The Dying Christian to His Soul (Pope)
  62. Huswifery (Taylor)
  63. Infinity, When All Things It Beheld (Taylor)
  64. The Resignation (Chatterton)
  65. The Lamb (Blake)
  66. And Did Those Feet (Blake)
  67. The Destruction of Sennacherib (Byron)
  68. Lines Written in Early Spring (Wordsworth)
  69. Earth Has Not Anything to Show More Fair (Wordsworth)
  70. To a Waterfowl (Bryant)
  71. The Snow-Storm (Emerson)
  72. Strong Son of God, Immortal Love (Tennyson)
  73. Crossing the Bar (Tennyson)
  74. In the Bleak Midwinter (Rossetti)
  75. Good Friday (Rossetti)
  76. Up-Hill (Rossetti)
  77. Pied Beauty (Hopkins)
  78. Spring (Hopkins)
  79. The Windhover (Hopkins)
  80. God’s Grandeur (Hopkins)
  81. O World Invisible, We View Thee (Thompson)
  82. A Prayer in Spring (Frost)
  83. Journey of the Magi (Eliot)
  84. Two Poems on Death and Immortality (Dickinson)
  85. Nature as God’s Revelation (Lanier and Coleridge)
  86. Sunday Worship (Smart and Coleridge)
  87. Christmas Day (Anonymous and Milton)
  88. Nature as a Religious Experience (Wordsworth)
  89. The Consolations of Providence (Milton and Shakespeare)
  90. Certainty of Faith (Brontë and Dickinson)
  91. Our Only Secure Home (Anonymous)

Biographical Notes
Sources and Acknowledgments
Scripture Index
Person Index

This is a priceless resource for homeschoolers, Christian schools, college students, and anyone who loves literature.  It also makes for an outstanding devotional exercise, reading one of these poems and its commentary as a supplement to daily Bible reading and prayer.



Illustration:  “Poetry Reading,” by eflon, via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.

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