Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Though After the Lost War is deeply spiritual, it mostly remains shy of an explicit connection with Christianity. Hudgins seems to believe that war’s brutality and the constant threat of death inform the human condition and constitute its central realities. Nevertheless, a simultaneous spiritual impulse, every bit as real, works in humanity and connects people to their inner selves, to each other, and to the world. Traditional Christianity constitutes one version of that impulse, but though the poet-persona flirts with it, he is more inclined to a spirituality committed, personal view of nature.

The book explores with unabashed honesty the range of human nature, in various stages of pain, healing, and forgiveness. The book implicitly asks whether people heal and forgive because that is part of their natures or because human nature is redeemed by some higher power. The book affirms the redemptive power of human kindness, which at times preserves or prolongs life but ultimately remains powerless to stop death. In the face of that death, one hopes for God’s grace but sees clearly only the metaphors for it reflected in nature. Hudgins’s Lanier says “It’s strange/ how everything I say becomes/ a symbol of mortality, a habit I cannot resist/ and don’t care to.” The poet seeks symbols of mortality, not symbols of divinity or symbols of the connectedness between God and humanity.

One of the poet’s chief symbols of mortality is the hawk. In one poem a hawk feints attack; birds rise into flight, and then the hawk takes a slow bird. The persona remarks, “I sat shaken—astonished and afraid,/ but also moved—by this assurance that/ God keeps his eye on everyone/ and snatches even those who flee his grace.” The hawk proceeds to eats the fallen bird on the spot, and the poem concludes, “In that, he wasn’t much like God/ —I hoped as I walked deeper in/ the darkening marshes past my home,/ through clover, chamomile, under heaven.” The poet finds himself, finally, “under heaven” in the world of the “darkening marsh,” where the hawk is both like and unlike God. The poet’s awe at God’s watchfulness is matched by his conviction that violence informs not only the human and the natural worlds but also the world of God. However, hope redeems that reality.