The Saint Mary’s Book of Christian Verse
Chosen and introduced by Edward Short
(Gracewing, $35, 350 pages)
The poet Dana Gioia writes in his introduction to Edward Short’s anthology, “this brief and inadequate survey is offered to demonstrate the powerful continuity of Christian poetry in English” as “our literary canon is suffused with religious consciousness, which has expressed itself in ways beyond the imagination of theology and apologetics.” It should be noted that both Short and Gioia mean Catholic when they describe Christian poetry, although some of the poets are not Catholic (and some selections are from poets before they converted to Catholicism or Christianity). The volume was intended as a textbook for schoolchildren but the impressively rich collection will edify readers of all ages with what Short calls in his introduction “an admirably coherent aesthetic – one that is at once humanizing and civilizing.” One of the most moving poems in the anthology is Philip Larkin’s “Church Going” which movingly describes the incomprehensibility of church to an unbeliever. Many write about family and marriage and sin and hope, and some poems are about “issues” such as Elizabeth Jennings’ “Euthanasia.” Short’s anthology includes more than 100 poets, from anonymously written poems penned in the 8th to 14th centuries to William Blake and William Wordsworth; from Chaucer and Shakespeare and Donne to John Henry Newman and Samuel Coleridge and Emily Dickinson; from John Milton and Richard Crashaw and John Bunyan to Gerald Manley Hopkins and G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, as well as many poets whose names are much less famous, but whose works are profound and (in most cases) lyrical.