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Breaking the Silence

Poetry and the Kenotic Word


Malgorzata Grzegorzewska, Jean Ward and Mark Burrows

This book of essays on poetic speech, viewed in a literary-critical, theological and philosophical light, explores the connections and disconnections between vulnerable human words, so often burdened with doubt and pain, and the ultimate kenosis of the divine Word on the Cross. An introductory discussion of language and prayer is followed by reflections linking poetry with religious experience and theology, especially apophatic, and questioning the ability of language to reach out beyond itself. The central section foregrounds the motif of the suffering flesh, while the final section, including essays on seventeenth-century English metaphysical poetry and several of the great poets of the twentieth century, is devoted to the sounds and rhythms which give a poem its own kind of «body».
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Words Against Words. Four Quartets and the Failure of Poetry


In Four Quartets, a long poem written by an ageing poet, with its interwoven motifs of plants and roses and slow meandering like a wide-flowing river, language holds back the current of meaning and stops still, forming pools of standing water. It might seem that we are dealing with a huge organism, a spreading tree with nests entwined in its branches, a warm wind stirring its green heights and sap coursing from root to topmost branch, circulating like the meanings of words. But in the backwaters of the poem, in their sudden ambiguities and consciously planned about-turns, a shadow has found its lair, a negative force that elbows out meanings and takes over speech, like a kind of virus attacking and breaking life down to its primitive elements without allowing them to be put back together again; or if at all, then only in the ironic form of language deprived of energy, language that speaks to us out of an overwhelming torpor and lassitude, gear in neutral.

In the Quartets as they are sometimes read, Eliot, to use his own phrase from the meeting with the “familiar compound ghost” in “Little Gidding”, “set a crown upon [a] lifetime’s effort” as a poet. Many critics see these pieces as the artistic and intellectual culmination of his poetic work, a kind of summation of his creative journey, a reckoning up and rounding off of themes that had appeared earlier, and now are gathered together, picked over and brought...

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