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Christian Poetry in the Post-Christian Day: Geoffrey Hill, R. S. Thomas, Elizabeth Jennings

Jean Ward

Despite Nietzsche’s predictions, Christianity has not faded away; Christianity and post-Christianity exist alongside each other in the Western world. But today’s Christian poet speaks to an audience that often has little understanding of the language, symbols and theological concepts that inform his or her work. This study looks selectively at the work of three poets, two grounded in the Anglican and one in the English Roman Catholic tradition, attempting to show how each has responded to this situation. Geoffrey Hill, R. S. Thomas and Elizabeth Jennings, each in different and inventive ways, draw on the rich resources of Christian culture, literary, liturgical, mystical and devotional, reaching far back into English tradition as well as outside it, and by implication revealing an element of regret at the consequences of the English Reformation.
Contents: Christian poets in a post-Christian society – The concept of Christian poetry – The difficulties of its language today – The language of Christian mysticism – The symbol of the cross in the poetry of Hill, Jennings and Thomas – Post-Reformation English religious poetry – «Sub-conscious Catholicism».