Carl Dennis published his poem “The God Who Loves You” in his eighth poetry collection, Practical Gods (2001), which won the Pulitzer Prize. Like many of his works, the poem examines philosophical concepts, in this case predetermination and free will—topics that Dennis explored in previous collections such as Ranking the Wishes (1997). In Dennis’s trademark style, “The God Who Loves You” also addresses the mundane details of everyday human experience. But in this poem, which is addressed directly to the reader, these details are initially viewed in a negative context, since Dennis poses the idea that the reader could have had a better life by making different choices. This idea sets up a corresponding concept that the reader’s faulty choices have made God sad because God loves the reader. And God, through the deity’s omnipotence, is forced to see this best possible path that the reader could have taken and thus God mourns the loss of this better life for His creation. Through the paradoxical struggle between predetermination and free will, as well as the discussion of an omnipotent God, the poem ultimately explores the consequences of human actions and addresses the idea of accepting what is in one’s life, not what could have been. A copy of the work can be found in Practical Gods, which was published by Penguin Books in 2001.
Dennis’s “The God Who Loves You” begins with a supposition: “It must be troubling for the god who loves you / To ponder how much happier you’d be today / Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.” With this introduction, Dennis sets up the idea of human choices and consequences. Dennis is trying to get inside the mind of an unnamed god, who could be the biblical God, but who is nevertheless not clearly identified throughout the poem. Looking at things from this unnamed deity’s perspective, Dennis imagines that the being is troubled by the choices that Dennis’s readers— addressed directly through the word “you”—have made, which presumably are not the best ones they could have made.
Dennis continues imagining this god being distraught, saying that “It must be painful for him” to watch as you get home after a typical week, in which you are “content” with the way the week has turned out. Here, although the poem is still addressed to the reader, Dennis imagines this reader specifically as a real estate agent, as indicated by the phrase “Three fine houses sold to deserving families.” By using mundane details from one person’s life experience, Dennis is attempting to examine human experience in general. He does not presume that all of his readers are real estate agents. Even readers who know nothing about real estate will understand the concept of “driving home from the office, content with your week.” Authors and poets often use this technique, employing a specific experience to comment about a shared one that the author believes is relevant to all, or at least most, readers.
In this section, Dennis begins to explore why the unnamed deity is in pain, by listing some of the ways that the reader’s life could have been better, “what would have happened,” for instance, if the reader had “gone to your second choice for college.” In this hypothetical scenario, Dennis, through the imagined perspective of the god, notes that the reader’s roommate at this second-choice school would have had an affect on the reader, by instilling the roommate’s “ardent opinions on painting and music” on the reader. This would have “kindled in you a lifelong passion.” Using this hypothetical choice as a starting point, Dennis begins to map out an alternate history of the reader’s life, which Dennis implies would have happened if the reader had gone to this secondary college. This alternate life would have been “A life thirty points above the life you’re living / On any scale of satisfaction. And every point / A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.” This implies a...
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