I love poetry, especially the poems of TS Eliot. There is something so profoundly elegant and intellectually stimulating about his verse.
Take this simple example: ‘Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past’. I hope that helps you appreciate why he is my favourite wordsmith.
Having said that, Wilfred Owen comes a close second. His war poetry is magnificent, even if it can prove a little depressing at times.
Take his well-known poem ‘Futility’. Owen wrote it when he was reflecting on the death of an unnamed soldier lying dead in the snow in France in 1918. The thrust of the poem is summed up in his final two lines where he writes, ‘O what made fatuous sunbeams toil to break earth’s sleep at all?
Owen’s words have haunted me ever since I first read them when studying A level English. Confusion, hopelessness despair, they capture all those emotions, and given the devastating impact of war I can understand why he wrote them. At times like that life can seem so pointless.
We are approaching yet another Remembrance Day and as we know HG Wells was no prophet when he predicted that the First World War would usher in a new world order. It was definitely not “The war that will end war”.
We only have to turn on the news to appreciate the pain and the despair that continue to be the legacy of armed conflict, and so, as we think of those who are dying and grieving the loss of loved ones it is only right that we renew our pledge to ‘remember’ them.
But as we do, I believe we need to remember these familiar words of Psalm 46 too: ‘Be still and know that I am God’. In many ways Psalm 46 is also a war poem, but it stands in stark contrast to Owen’s ‘Futility’. Whereas Owen’s experience produced a sense of despair and hopelessness the Psalmist’s experience had resulted in a reinvigorated sense of confidence and hope.
It was clearly written at the time of some great national deliverance. Biblical scholars know there were several such occasions, and we can’t be absolutely certain which one this refers to. However, the situation envisaged in the Psalm, together with its resemblance in phrase and metaphor to some of Isaiah’s prophecies suggest it could well have been written after the unexpected overthrow of Sennacherib’s massive army in 701 BC.
The Psalmist wants us to remember what God has done in the past so that we can face the challenges of the present knowing that He can and will take care of His people. I guess Winston Churchill was saying something similar when he said in 1942, “I sometimes have a feeling of interference, I want to stress that I have a feeling sometimes that some guiding hand has interfered”.
The Psalmist did more than look back though because he also saw the deliverance of Jerusalem as a preview of the day when God will establish His Kingdom on earth.
His vision recalls the prophecies of Isaiah who said ‘The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore’
I can’t wait for that day to dawn. I hope you feel the same way too.