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.)