Christian poetry

Good Friday – Christina Rossetti (An Easter Poem with analysis)

Good Friday – Christina Rossetti: a poem about Jesus’ crucifixion and the poet’s desire for a deeper response. A poem for the Easter season.

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Analysis

This is an interesting all by the Christian poet Christina Rossetti.

This poem is about “Good Friday“, the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ (The Messiah).

It has four stanzas. The first stanza speaks of the poets hardened heart.  Stanza two contrast her with the women, Peter, and the thief at the crucifixion. Next, the third stanza describes even nature’s response to the crucifixion of God incarnate. Finally, in the last stanza, there is a request for Jesus to soften her heart.

Note how the first and last stanza bookend the poem with of the imagery of rock and sheep. These images of sheep are in biblical passages like Psalm 23 and John 10:11. It also uses the imagery of Moses striking the rock to bring forth water in Exodus 17:1–7. Here the analogy between water being brought forth and the poet’s tears being brought forth by the one greater than Moses is made (Hebrews 3:1-6).

This poem has an interesting line structure. Each verse is four lines. The middle two lines of each verse are 5 feet long. The first and fourth line of verses one or four and 2 feet respectively. Verse two has the first and fourth lines at 3 feet. Then verse three has them at three and 2 feet respectively. Finally, the last verse, verse four, has them both at 2 feet. In this way, the first and last verses on the whole get shorter and shorter. This speeds up the action.

The rhyme scheme is abba. That is, the first and last lines of each verse rhyme, and the middle two verses rhyme with each other.

Christian Poetry

I Bind Unto Myself Today (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

For the St. Patrick’s Day, “I Bind Unto Myself Today  (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)”. This hymn or poem is adapted from a work attributed to Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick was a missionary to Ireland in the fifth century. He is known as the Apostle of Ireland. You can listen to a free recording of the “Confession of Saint Patrick” On LibriVox. In it he tells of being captured by pirates, being a slave in Ireland, becoming a Christian, and becoming a missionary to Ireland.

The lyrics below were adapted by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895). She was born in Ireland. Not only was she a poet and hymnwriter, she also cared for the poor and opened a school for the deaf.

You can find lyrics along with sheet music Online Here.

As with many hymns, there are different versions with different verses. Below is one. You can listen to a slightly different one than the one below here on YouTube.

I Bind Unto Myself Today  (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

Words St. Patrick adapted by Cecil Frances Alexander & music by Charles V. Stanford

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heav’nly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heav’nly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord

This poem or lyric is in iambic pentameter with four feet per line (de-um, de-um, de-um, de-dum). Often at the end of the last line there is an extra unstressed beat (de-dum-de).

Stanza one about the trinity has four lines and a rhyme scheme of second and fourth line rhyming.  

Stanza two through six are eight lines each with an aba’b’cdc’d’ rhyme scheme. That is, the first and third line rhyme, the second and fourth line rhyme, the fifth and seventh line rhyme, and the sixth and eighth line rhyme.

Stanza seven is different from the other stanzas with its poetic power from the repeated words “Christ” and “me”.

Stanza seven concludes with a repetition of stanza one with four more aba’b’ rhyming  lines added.

I do not think a summary of I Bind Unto Myself Today  (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate) would do it justice. But note the scope of subjects brought up and how they all fit together with each other, Christ’s work, and the Trinity in our Christian life. It can also be helpful to see what the focus of the poem is about and what each stanza is about. The focus of the poem is taking on God and his good for Christian life and work, even battle. There are eight stanzas. The first and the last focus on the Trinity. In between these bookends, the stanzas cover the work of Christ, God’s creation, the power of God, two stanzas increasing an emphasis as to the threats to be resisted, and an interlude of sorts about Christ. Again, it concludes with the Trinity; this time in more detail. The best way to understand a poem is to read it and reread it with enjoyment.

Christian Poetry
Hymns and Songs

Balboa Park Christmas Outreach – David Edwin Hall

Here is a link to David Hall‘s Facebook page where he gives an update on his evangelistic outreach in Balboa Park, has some pictures, and two videos of Christmas carols. One of the Christmas carols is “Silent Night“ and the other is a Ukrainian Christmas Carol. Read about his witnessing and using apologetics to spread the Gospel HERE on Facebook.
You do not need to sign into Facebook to watch this. You can go to Balboa Park on Saturdays to check out this great local ministry. His outreach is set up by the fountain.

Also, David has an updated version of his website. Check it out here for a lot of great apologetic and evangelistic resources
Science Scripture Salvation Outreach

And here he has a website with Christian poetry
Quiet Time Poems

Personally, I think these offer a good balance of “Christianity for the tough minded“ and “Christianity for the tender hearted.“ But after all, God loves everyone, Christ died and rose from the dead for everyone, and the Holy Spirit calls everyone to salvation, so it makes sense that Christianity was made for everyone. The Lord Jesus Christ is returning, and today is the day of salvation – trust in Him today and be saved!

Christmas poetry – “Christmastide” by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was a Christian poet during the Victorian age. She was the sister of the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here is a poem she wrote about Christmas.

Christmastide
By Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

This poem an interesting structure. The pattern of 4/3 feet is very common like, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.” This poem does the opposite with a 3/4 foot verse structure.

Each stanza has two of these verses sets. The first line of each of these sets is not necessarily rhymed with the first of the next one, but the second of each set is rhymed with the second of the next one. For example, in the last stanza “token” does not rhyme with “men,” but “mine” rhymes with “sign.” Note, in the first stanza the first line is repeated again as the third line. One way the first and third lines are matched each other is in each stanza the first word is the same for each of these; for example, in stanza two both lines one and three start with “Worship.”

This poem also has a different rhythm scheme than previous ones we have put up here. The previous ones have tended to be iambic (De-dum); this one is trochaic (Dum-de); the stress is on the first syllable here. Also, the first and third lines end with a feminine foot (without a stress) while the second and fourth lines of each stanza end with a stress or masculine foot. (This also shortens the second and fourth lines by one stress making the difference them longer by only one stress. This may be a way the poet was able to make this flipped line length work.)

In stanza one, God is called “Love“ and is connected with the double sign of angels and the star at his birth. This fits with the biblical teaching that “God is love“ (I John 4:8) and the signs given in the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke.

In stanza two, we worship God, but what is our sign?

Stanza three answers this question, the double sign of our love of God and all men. The Apostle John wrote that our love for each other shows that the Father has sent Jesus (John 17:21) and that we are his disciples (John 13:35). This is what Francis Schaeffer later wrote about in his little book, “The Mark of a Christian.“ Truth can be proclaimed through both poetry and apologetics.

Again, analysis of a poem is done to better understand it and enjoy it. The poem is the thing.

Discipline by George Herbert (Christian poetry)

Here’s another poem Discipline by George Herbert, a metaphysical poet.

Discipline
By George Herbert

Throw away thy rod,
Throw away thy wrath;
O my God,
Take the gentle path.

For my heart’s desire
Unto thine is bent;
I aspire
To a full consent.

Not a word or look
I affect to own,
But by book,
And thy book alone.

Though I fail, I weep;
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To the throne of grace.

Then let wrath remove;
Love will do the deed:
For with love
Stony hearts will bleed.

Love is swift of foot;
Love’s a man of war,
And can shoot,
And can hit from far.

Who can ‘scape his bow?
That which wrought on thee,
Brought thee low,
Needs must work on me.

Throw away thy rod;
Though man frailties hath,
Thou art God:
Throw away thy wrath.

Previously, I’ve analyzed the structure of Herbert’s poems. Here’s a brief analysis of Discipline by George Herbert and a poem I wrote inspired by this poem’s structure.

The poem has eight verses. Each verse has four lines. The rhyme structure is aba’b’. Each line ends with a masculine foot (stressed). The feet are trochaic. The line lengths are four, four, two, and 4 feet long. What is the poem about? The poem is the thing, so read it several times!

Though I am no Herbert, still, going to the experts is a good way of improving one’s poetry. One difference is while all the lines of Hebert’s has the same number of beats and offbeats for the three and two foot lines, mine is more flexible on the offbeats.

Sword Dance
By Paul J. Chamberlain

​​​​​Scripture and creation,
​​​​​The double symphony,
​​​​​ God’s revelation
​​​​​Sings in harmony.

​​​​​“Scriptures” and “seen by”,
​​​​​Joint sinewed to joint,
​​​​​ God can’t lie,
​​​​​Whirls in counterpoint.

​​​​​Wield the two-edged sword —
​​​​​In stereo be heard;
​​​​​ As our Lord,
​​​​​Deed must match the word.​

​​​​​As Christ is myth made fact,
​​​​​David’s Lord and Son,
​​​​​ Speech and act —
​​​​​The two shall become one.

​​​​​If you see the need,
​​​​​If you’ll take the chance,
​​​​​ Word and deed
​​​​​Shall praise Him in the dance.

 

POETRY

“Holy Sonnet XV” By John Donne – Christian poetry and analysis

Read Holy sonnet XV and brief analysis. John Donne (1572-1631) was a Christian, a metaphysical poet, a soldier, and a scholar. He lived at about the same time as George Herbert another metaphysical poet. Below is one of his “Holy Sonnets.”

I used the older punctuation but the more modern spelling. I think this is a balance that’ll give us the older feeling while still being able to read it clearly.

Holy Sonnet XV
By John Donne

Wilt thou love God, as he thee? then digest,
My Soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by Angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting, (for he ne’er begun)
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to’his glory, and Sabbath’s endless rest;
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy’it again:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he’had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Before going into a brief analysis of the poem, note that Donne uses a similar argument to the one that Tom Cantor used in “ How a Jew Learned the True Meaning of Christmas”. (Or maybe that’s vice versa, as Donne lived 400 years ago!)

Tom used and extended parable about a boy and the toy ship he made, lost, found, and bought. Donne wrote ,

“And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy’it again:”

This poem is an Italian/Petrarchan sonnet. Briefly, the English sonnet has 12 lines and then a 2 line couplet that sums them up or gives them a twist. The Italian sonnet has 8 lines and then a 6 line conclusion. The English sonnet is structured for cleverness; the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet for a more extended conclusion. The structure of the Italian sonnet does allow for a couple of at the end, too, and Donne takes advantage of this. In the first 8 lines he expresses his wonder at the Spirit of God dwelling in the believer (lines 1-4) and being chosen with the Father and Son for adoption (lines 5-8). At line 9 he turns to the wonder of redemption summing it up with the couplet,

“’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.”

But the poem itself is the thing. I think it’s best to read it, then analyze it, and then read it again more deeply. And this poem could also be analyzed for its meter, line length, rhyme scheme, use of imagery, etc.  Each analysis can lead to a more enjoyable and deeper reading of the poem.

More Christian Poetry

“Epitaph” a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh

Here’s a poem on the resurrection by the English explorer, soldier, spy, and poet Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618). 

Epitaph
By Sir Walter Raleigh
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days,
And from which earth, and grave, and dust
The Lord will raise me up, I trust.

I think it’s best to read a poem until one has a grasp or feeling of it by himself. Then later analysis by others might useful. As there are many different kinds of people, there are many approaches to poetry.

Here’s a breakdown on the poetic structure of the poem. This eight line poem has 4 feet per line (4 stressed beats). It is written in iambic pentameter (de-dum, de-dum…). The 1st foot of the first line has an extra non-stressed syllable (de-de-dum). The rhyme scheme is a b a’ b’ c c’ a’ a. The first rhyme of “trust” and “dust” is repeated at the end but together and in reverse order. Also note that “have” is rhymed with “grave.”  This originally was probably a rhyme and the pronunciation of at least one of these words has changed in the last 400 years.

POETRY

Love by George Herbert – Christian poetry and analysis

Love by George Herbert is another poem by this Christian metaphysical poet. “Love” (III) seems to be inspired by the Bible verse “God is love” (I John 4:8, 16). This previous post gave and linked to details of his life. Here is one of his more popular poems from his collection.”

Love (III)
By George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here.”
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

Note how Herbert is able to make very good poetry while still being positive and gentle. So often the great plays and poems are tragedies and about tragic subjects. I think there is something Christian about redeeming tragedy.

Love by George Herbert, like all of the poems in “The Temple,” has a unique structure to the collection. It has three stanzas, though the content does not seem structured strictly on the stanzas. This is a flowing conversation back-and-forth between the author and Love (I John 4:16). The line lengths are 5 feet, 3 feet, repeated three times per stanza. Again, the feet are iambic (de-dum, de-dum), this is very popular in poetry especially from the Elizabethan time. The  rhyme scheme is a b a’ b’ c c’. If we want to improve our poetry, looking at how the experts did it as one way.

Christian Poetry

“To a Snowflake” a poem by Francis Thompson

The term “snowflake” has become a negative in much political and popular speech, but here’s a poem in which a snowflake is used to worship the Creator.

“To a Snowflake” by Francis Thompson
What heart could have thought you?—
Past our devisal
(O filigree petal!)
Fashioned so purely,
Fragilely, surely,
From what Paradisal
Imagineless metal,
Too costly for cost?
Who hammered you, wrought you,
From argentine vapor?—
“God was my shaper.
Passing surmisal,
He hammered, He wrought me,
From curled silver vapor,
To lust of His mind—
Thou could’st not have thought me!
So purely, so palely,
Tinily, surely,
Mightily, frailly,
Insculped and embossed,
With His hammer of wind,
And His graver of frost.”

 

We can argue for God’s existence with apologetics, but another way is through poetry and images. After all, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Christian poetry helps us experience God‘s wonders more.

“To a Snowflake” by Francis Thompson is a 22 line poem (The number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, though I doubt this was intentional). It does not have a strict structure of the Elizabethan and Metaphysical poems we have posted so far. There seem to be 2 feet (stresses) per line with the number of unstressed beats varying. These short and varying lines fit with snowflakes falling. There are a number of rhymes at the end of lines, but no strict structure. This also fits with snowflakes falling. There is a fair amount of alliteration in and between lines. For example, look at the number of “f”and “p” sounds that are repeated in the first few lines. These plosive sounds gives a laughing feel to it. Towards the end the rhymes even take place within lines. This again gives the scattered feel of snowflakes falling, even more rapidly.

I think this poem is a good example of Alexander Pope’s admonition, “The sound must seem an echo of the sense.”

You can read other analyses here under Poems.

The Elixir by George Herbert

 

The Elixir by George Herbert

George Herbert is best known as one of the metaphysical poets from the 1600s. He was a Christian and chose the life of a country pastor.

Here is one of the poems about the daily Christian life from his collection, “The Temple”, in which each poem had its own unique form. This collection was published after his death.

The Elixir
By George Herbert

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

While John Donne is more famous, perhaps due to his reacknowledgment by T. S. Eliot, Herbert poems are very good, too. He has also achieved the difficult task of making very good poems with positive emotions rather than melancholic or negative ones.

The poem structure: this is the only poem written this way in the collection. It has six stanzas, and each stanza has four lines. Each stanza has a 3 foot line, a 3 foot line, a 4 foot line, and a 3 foot line (for foot think stress). The feet are iambic (de-dum). The rhythm scheme is a b a’ b’, like stone/gold/own/told.

Each stanza is broken into two parts: (stanza one) seeing and doing; (stanza two) negative and positive action; (stanza three) looking through or at a glass; (stanza four) good action and how; (stanza five) role and action; and (stanza six) image and explanation.

“in 1610 he [George Herbert] declared that “my poor abilities in poetry shall be all, and ever consecrated to God’s glory”…”  
Read more at George Herbert’s Life Before Bemerton

“While he and his wife Jane had no children of their own, they adopted his three orphaned nieces who lived with them in the rectory. They were generous in their hospitality to both parishioners and strangers, and sought to fashion their family life according to the way of Christ…”
Read more at George Herbert – The Bemerton Years

CHRISTIAN POETRY