Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Unattainable Earth is a confession of doubt and a prayer that the poet’s offering, however insufficient, may still be accepted. Despite his firm Catholic imagination, Miosz admits to his inability to achieve an unshaken belief, a struggle that characterizes his spiritual engagement: “sometimes believing, sometimes not believing,/ With others like myself I unite in worship.” He minimizes the quality of faith within himself, claiming that “I was not a spiritual man but flesh-enraptured,/ Called to celebrate Dionysian dances.”

Miosz links the presence of eros in his imagination with his attentive observance of the sensuous world, a quality that informs his understanding of Christian theology and biblical myth. Thus, when he turns to the story of Adam and Eve in his collection’s first section, he does not retell the account in Genesis as an investigation of innocence and sin. Instead, Eden becomes an allegory of consciousness; Miosz, marveling at the “otherness and sameness” of his lover, wonders that “Not one, divided in two, not two, united in one:/ The second I, so that I may be conscious of myself.// And together with you eat fruits from the Tree of Knowledge/ And by twisting roads make our way through deserts.”

Even more central to his theological thought is the problem of suffering. In a poem entitled “Theodicy,” he addresses “my sweet theologians” who debate the existence of pain in a world created by a benevolent God. “A decent man cannot believe that a good God wanted such a world,” he exclaims. Because of the weight of this empathy, and despite his public position as a Catholic intellectual, Miosz described himself as a Manichaean.

Yet above all else, Miosz’s poetry is an effort to praise God and champion being against the powers of “the Great Spirit of Nonbeing,/ The Prince of this World.” His effort at seeking the real is itself an act of worship. The collection ends with the affirmation,To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.