(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sydney Lea’s primary subject, although not his only concern, is the spiritual component of a life in a world ordered by a questioning but committed Christian perspective. The title poems for the three sections of Ghost Pain, “Was Blind But Now,” “A Man Walked Out,” and “Broken Haven,” each suggest significant elements of Christian culture and are linked to poems within each section that establish the section’s direction and mood. Lea’s selection of a familiar phrase such as “a man walked out” indicates a poetic strategy that joins a venerable religious motif with a contemporary sensibility and that blends traditional styles of religious expression with a range of language that includes formal poetic diction and the available vernacular of American speech.

To introduce the poems in Ghost Pain, Lea uses “The Author in March,” an invitation to the reader to join the author “by a smutted stove in his nook” as he “imagines a book” that will attempt to discover and understand “a counter-story,” the distillation of his life’s wisdom and interests in the maturity of his poetic journey. The setting of the poem in italics suggests Lea is confiding something, and the use of a word like “smutted,” a phrase like “a splotch of a town,” and an image of animals “poking their hungry maws” combine to create a mood of comfortable intimacy. Settled in a home that is a refuge from the “runes of professional fear,” the philosophical framework that his solid intellectual experience has assembled, the author is prepared to examine how his essential faith is as much an expression of uncertainty as of conviction. The poem concludes with the open-ended address, “How might he truly begin?” which leads to the first section,“Was Blind But Now,” the enduring declaration from the song “Amazing Grace.”

The title poem, however, is not the first poem in the section but instead is the next to last. The section begins by recalling, in “1959,” an important moment from the poet’s adolescence when as a “slightly fat, slightly handsome kid,/ sixteen, on scholarship, away/ from the new hegemon” in France, he experiences an epiphany on the shore at St. Jean de Luz. There, were the passage of time to totally stop, “To make a soul—I could tell!—would be so easy.” This indelible perception sets the course of a spiritual life and, by contrast, establishes a vision that is dramatically different from the world that the young man is about to enter.

The poems that follow delineate the quotidian world that the poet recalls—a world...

(The entire section is 1076 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Baumgaertner, Jill P. “Hints of Redemption.” The Christian Century, February 21, 2006, 38-42. An informative discussion of the religious issues in Ghost Pain.

Bedell, Jack B. “Sydney Lea.” In Encyclopedia of American Literature. New York: Continuum, 1999. Good background information on Lea’s work.

Giordano, Marie Jordan. “An Interview with Sydney Lea.” The Writer’s Chronicle, September, 2004. An extensive, detailed discussion with Lea, covering his themes, influences, and methods of composition.

“Lea, Sydney.” In American Poets Since World War II, Third Series. Vol. 120 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1992. A biography of the poet and discussion of his works.