Believing Poetically

If you have been about Transpositions for any length of time, you’ll have noticed that each of us are interested in the way faith is lived out. Particularly, we focus on the relationship between artistic and creative expressions. We appreciate and observe exemplars of the Arts for themselves; but we also think about how the arts, the imagination and theology are transposed upon, and in, and with each other.

This post, then, assumes that Poetry has the capacity to enact belief. In a recent article, Michael Edwards affirmed:

…a poem is an act, whether we are writing it or reading it, and that poetry, which is about living, is also a way of living, as is belief. Even the word belief is not the best word, since it can deflect attention to the fact of holding to certain truths as a matter of conviction, whereas believing, with its suggestion, as in knowing or being, of moving actively through time, evokes the fleshing of beliefs in what one does and how one is. […] Within the bounds of this believing, the Christian poet can explore and continue to explore, on the understanding that Christianity is larger than his capacity to think about it. [1]

If belief informs the artistic imagination, then it can also be said that poetic expression can arise from belief in the life of the poet. To determine as a reader what that belief is in may well be fraught, but it may also be fruitful for a nuanced reading. As Edwards writes “[…] poetry also enables one to recognize the unfinished nature of the self and to sense, as words come and the world changes under their influence, the possibility of the self, the other I which is trying to surface” [2]. If the belief expressed in art, and particularly poetry, are connected to a poet’s belief (and indeed, that of the reader) and to the real outside of the poem, the real which we ordinarily inhabit, then our attitudes about the possibility of belief, and the act of believing expressed in poetic form, affect how poetry is conceived of and created as well as the way in which we read and appreciate it.

Edwards’ concludes his 2011 Literature and Theology article “Believing in Poetry” in this way:

…we are surrounded by signs of a world being transformed, of the latent transformability of what we know as the real: by foreign languages, by dreams, and by all the forms of art, where not only poetry but narrative, theatre, painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, architecture, transfigure our way of undergoing the whole of our experience, not by imitating but by new-creating, by proceeding not according to mimesis but to anaktisis. [3]

In Koine Greek Anaktizo means to “make anew.” In another work, Edwards describes the way in which anaktisis is a step beyond “shadows and reflections” [4]. This kind of creative transposition, that which draws upon referents but is something beyond mimesis, hints at the capacity of poetry to enact belief, and beyond the ‘living’ of the poem by the poet in the act of its writing, as evidence of ‘believing’ for and by the poet. For the reader, a poem can speak to an experience they recognise but may not conceive of in the same linguistic fashion: a numinous experience of something stirred up within us by the poetic expression of another.

What do you think about Edwards’ (and my)  description of the relationship between poetry and belief and the act of believing expressed in poetry?


Image Credit: The fisherman’s net, Ely Cathedral, UK. Author’s own

[1]  Edwards, Michael. “Believing in Poetry.” Literature & Theology 25.1 (2011): 10-19. Print.  (18)
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] Edwards, Michael. Le Génie De La Poésie Anglaise. Paris: Le livre de poche, 2006. Print. (14)


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