Anne Porter Essay - Critical Essays


Anne Porter’s poetry adopts a stance of reverent, openhearted attentiveness, recording special moments of joy and enlightenment. Advent, Christmas, Easter, and reminders of God’s gift of Christ to humanity and Christ’s gift of himself to humanity appear frequently in her verse (“Prophets,” “Noël,” “Cause of Our Joy,” “La Bella Notizia,” and the major devotional poem “Here on Earth” from An Altogether Different Language). A few other poems are powerfully visionary (“A Year of Jubilee” and “A Night in Ireland” from An Altogether Different Language). Porter’s poems reflect the regular practice of private prayer and meditation (“A Short Prayer,” “A Plea for Mercy,” and “After Psalm 137” from Living Things). The poignant “The Shortest Days” (from An Altogether Different Language) specifically commends her old age, sickness, death, and the sufferings of those she loves to God during Advent, when hope and promise lie behind the cosmic threat of gathering darkness.

In a telephone interview on November 23, 2009, Porter stated two major goals of her poetry. The first was “to learn that other people are real and to share that with others.” As taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, she focuses on loving and respecting those forgotten or scorned by society: the poor, the sick, the old, children, members of minority groups, and the mentally handicapped. She suggests that enlightenment and grace often reach people through their relationships with such people. Poems such as “A Famine Child,” “Old in the City,” “A Safe Neighborhood,” “Stella Rapkowski,” “Terry Berrigan,” and “A Morning Dream” (from Living Things), “Los Desplazados,” “Refugee Servant,” “My Anastasia,” “Native Americans,” “From Denver to Albuquerque,” “A Deposition,” and “For My Son Johnny” (from An Altogether Different Language) illustrate the theme that devoting love and respect to others is people’s most important task. Placement early in their respective collections suggests these poems’ importance.

The second goal of her poetry is to express joy before the spectacle of nature, gratitude for the gifts of Creation, and hope for life eternal. She keenly observes the textures, hues, and sounds of nature. She often names the flowers and the birds, as if thanking God for their company. Often, her poetry expresses appreciation for the miracle of life by simply describing a surprising encounter, as in the anecdotal “Emmett Kelly,” “The Winged Children,” and “A Parade in the City,” or the nature poems “On a Maine Island,” “Boxwood,” “A Turtle’s Shell,” and “The Song of the Wren” (from Living Things).

Porter imagines that God has asked her to listen to the humble pasture rose and be its voice in “The Pasture Rose” (from An Altogether...

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