Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Taking Flight in Christ

George Herbert wrote a number of poems using a method called “concrete poetry” or “form poetry”, where the layout of the poem reflects meaning. Such a poem, called “Easter-Wings”, is shown below:

As you can see, the poem looks like “wings”. The poem is about the restored freedom we receive in Christ as a result of Easter. That freedom is symbolized by the wings. One cannot help but think of Isaiah 40:31, where we read “Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up {with} wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Take note how the form fits meaning:

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

The opening line begins with God creating humanity in “wealth and store”—note that the line is long. As sin enters the picture, the lines decrease in length until humanity is reduced to two words: “most poore”. Then, the turning point of the poem begins with “With thee”—in other words, with God. Herbert is emphasizing that spiritual healing, spiritual restoration, begins with God. As the lines increase, so does the crescendo of hope, which began with God’s intervention. Herbert draws in the flight metaphor into the text with renewed spiritual flight: “O let me rise / As larks […] further the flight in me” He also extends the metaphor to harmony of birds in flight as well singing. The second stanza in the poem set goes as follows:

My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

The length of the opening line here implies the extent and weight of sorrow as a result of sin. The result is a withering of the soul and, as form suggest, the poem. This withering continues until the poem is reduced to two words: “most thinne”. Both the poem and the soul of the speaker have become thin. But! But “With thee” the crescendo of hope and promises is restored. “For,” the speaker argues, “if I imp my wing on thine, / Affliction shall advance the flight in me.” To “imp” is an obscure term meaning to repair or graft feathers into a wing to increase flight. When we are grafted into Christ, we can fly to spiritual heights. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5. Like Christ, who endured much sorrow and affliction on the cross, we too will suffer affliction and rejection in this world. However, if we cleave to Christ, our suffering will not be in vain, as His suffering was not in vain. Our sorrow will turn to joy. The promised Holy Spirit will come as our helper, and will draw us to Christ. The Spirit is often symbolized in Scripture as a dove, and so the metaphor takes further significance.

"Easter Wings" is a superb poem that exudes both poetic and spiritual beauty. "With Thee, let us rise, as larks, harmoniously, and sing this day thy victories!"

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