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Poetry and Prayer

Poetry and Prayer

(p.126) 3 Poetry and Prayer
Poetry and Its Others
Jahan Ramazani
University of Chicago Press

Whether atheist, agnostic, or of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other heritage, poets frequently both mimic and interrogate prayer. From Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and James Weldon Johnson, to George Oppen, Louise Glück, Agha Shahid Ali, A. K. Ramanujan, and Charles Wright, poets interlace poetry with prayer, drawing on its apostrophe, intimate address, awed colloquy, solemn petition, musical recursiveness, and other features. At the same time, they work the tensions between poetry and prayer, tensions between invention and devotion first identified by Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century: they skeptically question prayer’s conventions, refuse to subordinate imaginative idiosyncrasy, indulge metaphor and the aesthetic for their own sake, and thus push poetry beyond prayerful norms. Modern and contemporary poetry mobilizes the performative energies of prayer, but steps back from and reframes them, playing in the space between prayer and antiprayer.

Keywords:   poetry and prayer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, James Weldon Johnson, George Oppen, Louise Glück, Charles Wright, Agha Shahid Ali, A.K. Ramanujan

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