(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The forty-four poems in After the Lost War by Andrew Hudgins are all spoken in the voice of the historical Georgia-born poet and musician Sidney Lanier. They are divided into four sections, ranging from chronicles of Lanier’s Civil War experience to the personal aftermath of the war; from Lanier’s state of mind during a time when his consumption threatened his life to the charting of the last days and thoughts of a man slowly dying of pulmonary tuberculosis. The poems follow a rough chronological order, and thematic leitmotifs unify the sections of the book.

Each section is introduced by a short biographical paragraph, and in the preface Hudgins informs the reader that the voice of the poems will not be familiar to those who know the poetry and prose of the historical Lanier. Thus, the poems are unified by an empathetic, artistic impulse rather than a historical one. Poetically, Hudgins explores narrative, dramatic monologue, and voice, but thematically he is interested in questions of how a man of talent and sensitivity confronts a life of brutality.

The brutal life of war is explored in “Burial Detail,” in which Hudgins’s Lanier tells of the grisly assignment of burying dead soldiers in a mass grave and scattering lime between layers of human flesh. At one point during the long night of burial detail, the soldier-poet faints and falls into the mass grave of rotting flesh. Ironically, the poet finds comfort in the acknowledgment that he too will rot, comfort because he sees the laws of nature redeeming man’s inhumanity to man. This theme of nature’s redemptive power is communicated in the climax of the poem when Lanier sees what he calls “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen:/ dawn on the field after the Wilderness. . . ./ In short, it looked like nothing human.” Without saying so directly, the persona communicates his disgust with human endeavor and yearns for something more—the immutable laws and cycles of nature.

The book confronts readers with questions of human violence and invites them to ponder what they will do to compensate for the blood and sins of this generation. One of the answers...

(The entire section is 885 words.)