Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

Throughout his writing life, Wright has made his deep and driving interest in theological issues a major focus of his poetry, expressing a belief that “the true purpose of poetry is a contemplation of the divine and its attendant mysteries.” In a revealing interview with Morgan Schuldt in 2002, he proclaimed that “Poetry is a matter of ’soul making’ as John Keats said,” and for Wright, the human soul is illuminated through the “contemplation of the divine.” In Black Zodiac, this is primarily a contemplation of landscape, the “lever of transcendence” that elevates the human above the profane. Given the disparate sources of Wright’s religious background, the poetry here depends on a search for God’s presence within every aspect of the landscape he encounters. In the opening lines of “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” Wright sees the blossoming dogwood trees doting the landscape as a “via Dolorosa,” the path Christ walked on his way to the cross, with individual trees as “part-charred cross points.” Such images link the local with the manifestation of God on earth in human affairs, leading toward this image in the third section:

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The Unknown Master of the Pure Poem walks nightly among his roses,The very garden his son laid out.Every so often he sits down. Every so often he stands back up.

The wry humor of this conception—a sort of shield against the awesome implications of God’s actions—does not detract from its awareness of God’s existence. The heart of the whole volume is a record of the poet’s responses to this phenomenon, an attempt to convey in language something he feels profoundly, if somewhat abstractly. Quoting Saint Augustine with approval, the poet acknowledges that “God is neither imaginable nor conceivable, but is the ground and condition of all existence and knowledge”—thus, the image of “The Unknown Master” and the quest for evidence of the Master’s work.

That word is written in many languages, such as (in the poem “Meditation on Summer and Shapelessness”) the “cloud-ragged, cloud-skutted sky,” which Wright calls “God’s wash”; or as the “respirations of the divine,” in the poem “Lives of the Saints,” which concludes with the admonition, “God says, watch your back”; or (in “Disjecta Membra”) as an image of “God’s blue breath,” which he calls a “compulsive cameo” that is “so light on the skin, so infinite.” These, and many other images and invocations throughout the volume, testify to the presence of God, if glimpsed aslant, or through shadows. “Is this the life we long for?” Wright asks in a kind of summation in the last section of “Disjecta Membra,” and then answers, “Well, yes, I think so.” The conclusion might seem like a step down from the exalted; it is actually a characteristically subdued capstone, bringing the vivid, intense images of the divine back to the level of everyday human existence.

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