Thursday, September 19, 2013

Words in Their Natural Habitat

By Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy

Words in Their Natural Habitat

Poetry is the natural use of words, even more natural than expressing facts. In fact, the word “expression” describes the purpose of poetry: it is used to communicate a feeling or idea in much the same way that a facial expression is.

The earliest human written document is poetry, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Like virtually all early human writing, this epic poem describes the relationship between man and the gods. Nearly every religion’s scriptures use poetry to communicate ideas about God.

In the West, when we hear someone described as a “theologian” we think about someone who studies the facts about God and spiritual things. In the Eastern Christian Church, we refer to those saints as theologians who communicated God to us in poetry, especially St John the Theologian (author of the Revelation) and St Symeon the New Theologian:

God heard my cries
And from unimaginable heights he stooped down
And looked upon me.
Once more he had pity on me and allowed me to see
The One who was invisible to all,
A much as human kind can bear.
Seeing him I was astounded,
Me who was locked up in my tiny house of bone,
All surrounded by darkness…
I saw him in the midst of my tiny house,
So quickly had he entered in, complete,
Uniting himself to me inexpressibly
Joining himself to me inexpressibly
Suffusing himself in me unconfusedly,
Just as fire can permeate iron,
Or light shine through crystal.
So it was he made me become like fire itself;
Revealing himself to me as Light.

The Christian scriptures start off by creating the world with poetry, as the Word makes everything there is and sets it all in order. After the Fall, God recites another poem to initiate the new order:
(To the serpent)
Because thou hast done this,
thou art cursed above all cattle,
and above every beast of the field;
upon thy belly shalt thou go,
and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
and between thy seed and her seed;
it shall bruise thy head,
and thou shalt bruise his heel.
(To the woman)
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
and thy desire shall be to thy husband,
and he shall rule over thee.
(To Adam)
Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife,
and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee,
saying, Thou shalt not eat of it:
cursed is the ground for thy sake;
in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee;
and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,
till thou return unto the ground;
for out of it wast thou taken:
for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Just over a year ago, I embarked on a quest to write at least a poem a day, with this poem as my apology:

I think I need to craft a poem a day
Not so much to chronicle
The rise
And the fall
Of Life
As to make Life rise from the Fall

The word is what initiates the creative act, and brings it to fruition. Both writing and reading poetry sparks that creative and recreative work in us. So, let us go forth and poefy!

Kenneth A O'Shaughnessy is a freelance writer and poet living in the upstate of South Carolina with his wife and four children. To find his daily poetry entries, log onto:

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