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Breaking the Silence

Poetry and the Kenotic Word


Edited By 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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The Tremulous Word: On Language in Prayer


Empty words; dissolve the solid meanings. To dissipate the gravity, the darkness of matter, let the light in … Let there be light. Love without attachment is light. Consciousness penetrates the darkness; consciousness is an opening or void. Norman O. Brown, “Love’s Body”

Shall we revise the language? And in revising the language will we alter the doctrine? R.S. Thomas, “Bleak Liturgies”


Between 1759 and 1763 Christopher Smart, considered a threat and locked up for a time in a mental institution – “FOR I pray the Lord JESUS that cured the LUNATICK to be merciful to all my brethren and sisters in these houses” (43)1 – scribbled his unusual poem “Jubilate Agno”, which was first to be published, as “Rejoice in the Lamb”, only in 1939. There are several reasons for choosing him as a patron of this essay on God, men, and words. First is the range of Smart’s design: when treated with all due seriousness, religion and its various modalities represent a peculiar type of irresistible connectivity. Religion is what connects man and the world; in terms of the articles of faith, certainly, but also in the sense of prevailing generality – religion, and prayer as its fundamental modality, is a way of bringing things together. That is why Smart not only uses words but also prays in this poem with musical instruments (“For the Trumpet rhimes are sound bound, soar more and the like”), flowers (“For there is a language of...

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