Keeping Your Head in the Clouds: Why We Need Poetry
Poetry does something to us that ordinary language doesn't . . .
Keep Your Head in the Clouds
The old adage was, “Get your head outta the clouds.” I always had a hard time with that. The clouds are amazing. Why would I not want to stare at them and get lost in a doxological daze? Still, I understood the idea.
As a long-time student of Scripture, I find it interesting that a lot of people have the same mentality when they read Scripture. The poetic language and imagery of some passages can be thought of as “up in the clouds.” Psalm 19:1-6 is one of my favorite examples.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Some readers try to pull their heads out of the clouds in passages like these by making the meaning as literal as possible. They translate images into words. They try to tear away the poetics of the prose. “The heavens don’t speak. The psalmist just means that the sky is part of God’s natural revelation.” Or, “Days and nights don’t utter words. The psalmist is really just saying that God’s world reveals his presence.” Images and metaphors fall away in the interest of a “literal” meaning.
But it makes you wonder, why would God have chosen words like these when he could have used purely “literal” language? As John Frame wrote, “There is no reason to have any general theological preference for literal language over figurative or to assume that every metaphor must be literally explained in precise academic terms. Scripture does not do that. Often, in fact, figurative language says more, and says it more clearly, than corresponding literal language would do” (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 227-228).
So, maybe all that “head in the clouds” figurative and metaphorical language doesn’t need re-wording. Maybe it’s there precisely because our heads need to be drawn into the clouds. After all, what good would it do for our heads always to be on the ground when our hope is in the sky (Mark 13:26)? More often than not, we need to be lifted up, not lowered down.
What good would it do for our heads always to be on the ground when our hope is in the sky (Mark 13:26)? More often than not, we need to be lifted up, not lowered down.
The poetic language we find in Scripture reminds us that something much deeper is at work in God’s Word than the mere transfer of information. In fact, we could say the same about God’s world.
And that leads me to a little announcement.
Nobody knows yet . . . except you.
I haven’t told anyone this yet, but I wanted to let you know since you’re “my people.” I’ve just published my second collection of poems: word by Word: Poems Inspired by Scripture. I’ve been sitting on these poems for several years, as I was with the poems from Borrowed Images. I’m thrilled that they’re finally ready for readers. Scroll down to read one of my favorites.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Gone the hair that falls, as grass, from cancer.
Gone the fear of death that has no answer.
Gone the sea and thunder of the deep.
Gone the cycle of birth, death, and weep.
Gone confusing are the words we speak.
We are a shadow of the hope we keep.
But gone the sun that draws a shadow out.
Gone the shadows and the temple mount.
That’s all for now. But keep your eyes on my YouTube channel. I’ll be doing some more poetry readings there.