My discovery of Christian Wiman came via his prose book My Bright Abyss reflecting on his battle with cancer. I knew from that book that I needed to read his poetry immediately. So I quickly ordered Every Riven Thing and waited for a hard copy to be shipped to NZ (no kindle edition!). The wait was worth it though. Clive James’s comment on the back is dramatic but not far from the truth: “The best thing to say about Wiman is not that he reminds you of previous poets; it’s that he makes you forget them.”
The hardest thing is to decide what to share on this blog to give you a taste of Wiman’s brilliance. I guess the obvious thing is to choose two of his most explicitly theological poems, one of which captures powerfully his struggle with cancer. The first sample is called “2047 Grace St” and is part 2 of a poem entitled One Time.
2. 2047 Grace St
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. Praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.
in Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux , New York, 2010), p. 29-30
This next one is the title poem of the volume. It is both a profound theological reflection and a brilliantly clever construction. Notice that each stanza begins with the same words on the first line. Only the punctuation changes.
Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
in Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux , New York, 2010), p. 24-25