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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“As We Forgive Those” finds much of its power in Pankey’s use of juxtaposition and allusion. A kind of prayer itself, the poem’s clear reference to the Lord’s Prayer establishes a pattern of comparison for the poet that allows him to move back and forth between philosophical meditation and the remembered actions of his past.

Derived from the Latin, the word “allusion” literally means “to play with or touch upon,” and it remains one of the most effective means of compression in poetry. Merely by mentioning certain names, places, events, or, in this case, specific lines from a spiritual text, the poet creates powerful associations for the reader. Clearly the historic significance of the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity and the profound effect of this religion upon the Western world determines the power and resonance of this particular allusion. However, at several points in the poem, Pankey’s use of allusion shifts from a universal human history, as reflected in Christendom, to the individual history of Pankey’s own American boyhood—a pattern that keeps the poem from becoming mired in theological conundrums of interpretation that ultimately cannot be resolved.

Thus, in the poem’s first stanza, Pankey establishes, through juxtaposition, that his own boyhood experience will serve as a metaphor for forgiveness. He remembers that as a boy he learned “to forgive from those who forgave.” This is a slight alteration of the...

(The entire section is 577 words.)