Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem is the last in a series of three poems on religious themes that conclude Schnackenberg’s volume The Lamplit Answer. Their theme makes them rather uncommon in the corpus of twentieth century American poetry. Religious poets such as John Donne and George Herbert flourished in seventeenth century England, but twentieth century America has been a basically secular place for poems. Perhaps that is why Schnackenberg has chosen to explicate a very basic concept of Christian theology in this poem—the concept of supernatural love. The poem’s title suggests the mystery of divine love, God’s love for human beings. It also suggests other remarkable loves, such as the love parents feel for their children. In the New Testament, Jesus used parent-child love to illustrate the nature of divine love, thus establishing a tradition of imagery.

Implicit in this image is the idea that the loved creature cannot understand such love. Children cannot grasp the depth of their parents’ love for them any more than human beings can grasp the depth of God’s love. Thus the child in the poem cannot read the text she is cross-stitching, and even the father seems not to understand what he reads in the dictionary.

At this point it seems useful to look again at the images of the poem’s opening. The father gazes at the room through the magnifying glass almost like God looking at the world as he touches a word which seems to ring like a “distant,...

(The entire section is 480 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Poetic Symbolism and Theological Doctrine

The theme of supernatural love, the love of God for humans, is emphasized by the...

(The entire section is 624 words.)