Poetry as a Means of Grace

Over the years, I have enjoyed taken reading recommendations from Dr. T. David Gordon’s top ten books list, and also highly value his recommendations within his books and essays. One such book that came from one of his Why Johnny Can’t… books is Charles Osgood’s little out-of-print gem Poetry as a Means of Grace.

Written primarily for pastors, but also appropriate for laity, this book argues for the necessity of the discipline of reading literature – and poetry specifically – as a means to enriching one’s life, learning about the world, and developing a deeper sense of beauty and truth. He also touches on the danger of separating “sacred” and “secular” art and of valuing sacred at the expense of secular. This has application not just to literature and poetry, but to music as well.
The first chapter lays out the arguments, and encourages the reader to “adopt” a timeless and transcendent (note: not transcendentalist) poet. Subsequent chapters give examples of poets that fit the bill (Dante and Milton, for example). I have not adopted a poet just yet, but I have unofficially “adopted” authors like Percy (fiction) and Postman (non-fiction) and have goals to read everything written by them.
The book is available on Amazon thanks to the print-on-demand capabilities of the University of Michigan Library. Here are two excellent excerpts from the first chapter:

“Literature serves its best ends, and keeps itself procreative by ministering pleasurably to the spiritual needs in any generation to which it may survive. Instead of leveling sacred literature down to its own plane, profane or secular literature dignifies itself to higher ends, as Virgil is dignified and illuminated by his service to Dante. And as Virgil might not enter Paradise, so secular literature cannot equal Holy Writ in power or authority or efficacy as a means of grace. Yet it may illustrate, reinforce, verify, and illuminate Holy Writ, and warp the world into the range and field of its magnetic influence. It may serve us as the sycamore tree served Zacchaeus, to gain a clearer sight of the Incarnate Truth.” (pp 7-8)

“Literature helps us to see as important what is really important, though the world call it a trifle, and to see trifles as trifles, though the world call them important; like Lazarus in Browning’s Epistle of Karshish, who returned from death to live on, newly aware of ‘The spiritual life around the earthly life.’

“Thus literature, especially great poetry, extends the range of vision, intellectual, moral, spiritual; it expands the compass of our sympathy; it sharpens our discernment; it corrects our appraisal of all things. Such powers we recognize in all the great priests of sacred history. And if we could consult them, I fancy most of them would bear witness that no secular agency had been more efficacious than literature in giving them that authoritative ease among men and ideas, that spiritual and social sophistication which characterizes them all.” (p. 19)

 -Charles G. Osgood in Poetry as a Means of Grace (University of Michigan Library, 1940)


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