Too Difficult a Grace

Here is the poem that jumped out after the last one. They speak to each other.

#569, c. 1862

I reckon — when I count at all —
First — Poets — Then the Sun —
Then Summer — Then the Heaven of God —
And then — the list is done —

But, looking back — the First so seems
To Comprehend the Whole —
The Others look a needless Show —
So I write — Poets — All —

Their Summer — lasts a Solid Year —
They can afford a Sun
The East — would deem extravagant —
And if the Further Heaven —

Be Beautiful as they prepare
For Those who worship Them —
It is too difficult a Grace —
To justify the Dream —

I love that: “Poets — All —” From your lips, Emily, to God’s ears.

That is the poet’s job, right? To compress the totality of some lengthy event or experience into a few dense words. So that we get all of it without labor or ratiocination. Leave it to the prose-writers like me, the mules of the wordy set, plodding that slow, linear, obvious, over-explained way up the hill. Not for the poets. Their poems arrive inside us with the same effortless effect as we would receive God’s grace. You don’t have to agree to anything for the poem, or earn it. The poem simply IS. All. At once.

Quantum physics has not yet been able to explain how one electron can be in two places at the same time. And no one has been able to explain exactly how Emily’s poems work. We can talk around them, close to them. But get to them? Not yet.

Emily herself has the same hesitation. The last lines make me pause, too. “It is too difficult a Grace — /To justify the Dream —” Sounds as though she sees the poem falling short. What begins as a brave shout of honor to the poets, ends with a slight diffidence. A pulling back. The true full grace lies beyond even her magnificent powers. Only a poet could see this trap. To be satisfied with your own poem is to fail.

Been thinking and talking about grace lately. My book group came to my house last night to discuss Wise Blood. Now, as for Flannery O’Connor, there is another tough nut. Her preoccupation with grace preoccupied us last night. What is grace? someone in our group kept asking. It’s a good question because it takes so may forms. Like Emily’s “Beauty”, it cannot be sought. It only abides. You may dimly apprehend it, if you’re lucky and sensitive. It may arrive in your life but if you look for it, you’ve lost it. Like love, if you try to explain it, that’s when it slips through your fingers.

In Flannery’s view, grace is the moment, that may occur more than once in a person’s life but more often it happens at the moment of death, when you experience a sense of being loved by God, even though you know you don’t deserve it. Grace is the knowledge that, even at your worst, your most vile, disgusting, inhumane, petty, greedy, nasty, foul, ugly state . . . God still wants you. Even when you smell like last week’s garbage, even when you don’t want you, God still wants you.

Here’s the question I always wanted to ask Flannery (and Emily): What if you don’t want God? I know what they would say. Not sure what I would say.

Write a poem and hope for the best. It’s all a crap shoot, anyway.

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