The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Homily” is a free-verse poem written in thirty-five lines with no stanza breaks. The construction of the poem is free from most formal conventions of poetry, including patterned rhyme, rhythm, and meter. Its organization follows the development of the poem’s content, which is aptly described by its title. The term “homily” refers to a sermon often delivered in church to a congregation. The subject of the sermon is often designed to instruct or enlighten the audience for moral or spiritual improvement. In “Homily,” Harrison offers his readers a list of “do’s and don’ts” that escalates through the vices of indulgence in wine, song, pornography, and lust, culminating in the dissolution of the subject as he is torn apart by his desires. Though the persona of this poem could be said to speak to its readers (its congregation), the speaker in “Homily” also appears to be speaking only to himself, as if the reader were listening to someone talking alone in an attempt to find a balanced and moderate middle road in life.

The poem begins with a statement of “simple rules to live within.” The first image is related to writing with one pen in the morning and another at night. Soon the poem’s imagery moves to the kinds of indulgences that traditional church homilies often spoke against: “avoid blue food and ten-ounce shots/ of whiskey . . .//don’t read/ dirty magazines in front of stewardesses.” The catalog of images includes a...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

One of the significant features that individualize Harrison’s poetry in comparison to so many of his contemporaries is the lack of consideration he gives to formal constraint. His poems often encapsulate wild flights of the imagination and surreal images that lack any definite closure and that do not demonstrate the least hint that any of the language was constructed in advance. Even when he has written in form, Harrison has most often employed the ghazal, a short series of couplets that allows a “metaphorical leap” from couplet to couplet, thus offering the kind of freedom within the form that Harrison continually appears to seek. He has stated that his tendencies “run hotly to the impure, the inclusive, as the realm of poetry.”

“Homily” demonstrates Harrison’s exuberance and wit as well as his facilities with language. The main device Harrison relies on to create the poem is the blazon, the catalog of images related to a single idea. The blazon supports Harrison’s desire for inclusiveness and helps to develop the tone of dark humor that the poem suggests. The poem is a satire of the homily, a form delivered over many years in church services that, in the cleanest and most socially acceptable language possible, warned churchgoers of their potential for sin. Harrison’s images warn against excess, but the images are so stark, so free of self-consciousness, that the reader can respond to the honesty and authenticity of the lines.


(The entire section is 438 words.)