The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“As We Forgive Those,” a relatively short poem in free verse, is divided into four stanzas of unequal length and makes use of a natural, almost colloquial, tone to examine rather weighty theological issues. The poem’s title is drawn from the Lord’s Prayer, widely used in Protestant Christianity, and suggests the struggle of the poet to reconcile his understanding of that prayer, especially its admonitions concerning forgiveness, with his own family experience.

The bulk of Pankey’s verse—collected in For the New Year (1984), Heartwood (1988), Apocrypha (1991), and The Late Romances (1997)—suggests both a deep fascination with and strong commitment to Christianity, as well as an uneasiness concerning its many permutations and manifestations. While Pankey’s discomfort with Christian dogmatism and facile fundamentalism is evident, it is equally clear that such discomfort leads him to examine carefully his own faith and its relationship to his childhood growing up in the United States during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

In various poems, particularly those collected in Heartwood (where “As We Forgive Those” appears), no clear line exists between the speaker’s voice in the poem and that of the poet. While such conflation is common in contemporary poetry, in Pankey’s case it is used to dramatic effect to speak about religious experience. Like the poet Andrew Hudgins in his...

(The entire section is 457 words.)