The Power of Poetry

David Bast

Read: Luke 11:1-4

Lord, teach us to pray. (v. 1)

“A poem . . . begins with a lump in the throat,” wrote Robert Frost in a letter to a friend. That line in itself conveys several truths about the way great poetry works. It is focused emotion: it conveys strong feeling in a minimum of words. It stimulates the imagination by use of metaphor and imagery. Its meaning is not always obvious; it forces the reader to think about what the poet is trying to say.

George Herbert was one of a group of Christian poets who lived and wrote in England during the 17th century. Like his contemporary John Donne, Herbert was an Anglican clergyman, a devout Christian believer as well as one of the greatest poets in the history of the English language. Both Donne and Herbert used the sonnet form, a type of poem that follows some of the strictest rules of poetic composition. An English (or Shakespearian) sonnet has three four-line stanzas with a regular rhyming pattern, followed by a rhyming couplet (two-line conclusion).

Each line of Herbert’s sonnet on prayer has one or more images for prayer. As Michael Wilcock leads us through the poem phrase by phrase over the coming days, we have the opportunity to let the poetry work its magic—to deepen our thinking, expand our imagination, engage our emotions—and lead us into praying more often and with greater feeling and understanding.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus’ disciples once asked. George Herbert’s poem, with Michael Wilcock’s devotional reflections, can do just that. —David Bast

Prayer: “Lord, teach me to pray.”