Reading Poetic Prose

I can’t say, My Bright Abysswith all honesty, that I am terribly well read or that I’m very astute when it comes to judging literature. I wouldn’t be able to pick up a book and tell you, based on something objective like grammar or structure or whatever, that it was a good or bad book. However, I do feel like I have an innate sense of what is good literature or not. Something about how it engages my mind and heart,as though I can spiritually or emotionally smell the brilliance of an author. Completely subjective, of course, but I tend to be intuitive about a lot of things.

There have been a few books that really engaged me as works of art, brilliance in prose. So far, there haven’t been very many, but Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, and maybe Flannery O’Conner come to mind. The common thread of these authors is their impeccable grasp of spirituality (or humanity, in McCarthy and Flannery’s cases) that never comes off forced or flowery, but is incredibly brilliant and composed, like a piece of music or… poetry. Poetic prose.

Anyhow, my experience with these authors was why I picked up a copy of My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman the other day at the library. I saw that Marilynne Robinson had an endorsement on the cover and thought I’d give it a shot (goes to show those endorsements actually work after all). I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a compilation of essays and poetry that the author composed while enduring seven years of treatment for a rare and dangerous blood cancer. He bounces around from faith to poetry to doubt to theology and everywhere in between, but the whole book retains a distinct cohesiveness. Some of the places he lands I wouldn’t necessarily agree with, but it’s the journey that was most captivating to me. There is very little that is cliche or trite about the book. It was solid mind and heart candy for me. I found myself feeling calmed by reading the book. It was meditative, reflective, mystical. Over all, it made me hungry for more like it. Gonna dig out my copy of Fannery O’Conner short stories.

Here’s are some samples of what Christian Wiman writes like:

Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls, or at least any understanding of our souls that we are able to attain, that every experience is dyed with its color. This is why, even in moments of joy, part of that joy is the seams of ore that are our sorrow. They burn darkly and beautifully in the midst of joy, and they make joy the complete experience that it is. But they still burn. (p.19)


Love does not die without our assent, though often (usually) that assent has been given unconsciously long before we come to give it consciously. Love is not only given by God, it is sustained by him. There is a constant interplay between divine and human love. Human love has an end, which is God, who makes it endless. (p.29)


If you pick up the book, let me know what you think about it…

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