Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In his introduction to The Fred Chappell Reader (1987), Dabney Stuart asserts that “God and the Bible suffuse Midquest.” He points out that there are “descents into hell (’Cleaning the Well’), rebirths (’Bloodfire,’ ’Fire Now Wakening on the River’), and frequent pondering on flesh and spirit (’Firewood’).” It is the poet’s attitude toward these experiences that is most important, because he is both a representative of a region not that familiar to most outsiders and a keen-eyed, strong-minded commentator who is far from enamored of all of the area’s social, moral, and theological mores. In “Cleaning the Well,” the fourth poem in River, the poet as a boy is ready to accept his responsibilities, a typical hard task performed in December, the dark of winter, but is fully aware of the strange place he is descending toward. “Lord, I sank/ Like an anchor,” he recalls, mingling dread with a prayer for protection. Further down, he exclaims, “Whoo! It’s God/ Damn cold!” continuing to combat “pain, disgust, and fear,” while his entreaties are answered from above with an offhand humor—“Say, Fred, how’s it going down there?”—until he is hauled back to earth. At first relieved, he discovers the power of the experience, and “shut my eyes to fetch/ Back holy dark,” affirming his kinship with biblical predecesors (“Jonah, Joseph, Lazarus”) who returned after a dark vision. His...

(The entire section is 603 words.)