Comments on My Poetry
As I read through my life's work as a poet, I can see two distinct themes. In my years of wandering away from the Lord, the theme was fear of death. I had opted for life now instead of life forever, yet in my heart I knew that I had made a bad choice, because life now is like a vapor that quickly disperses and vanishes. But after my return to the Lord, the theme shifted from fear to joy—joy in the certainty that I possess meaningful life forever.
You might be surprised how my latest poems, "Downpour" and "The Apple Tree," were written. On a recent trip with my wife, I said to her, "When I was young, I had no technique and plenty of inspiration. Now that I am old, I have some technique and no inspiration, or at least not as much. Give me an idea for a poem." I like to invent poems while driving to relieve the monotony.
She replied, "Why not write a poem about that ferocious storm we just went through?"
"Good idea," I said, and I went to work. A few hours later, when I was finished with "Downpour," I looked to my wife for another idea.
She suggested, "Write a poem about an apple tree." And so I did.
As in many of my poems, the new ones incorporate three levels of meaning. First, they describe an actual experience. I used to grow apple trees, and I have a vivid memory of walking among them in the fall, when they were laden with apples, and of reaching up to pick the ones that looked especially ripe and luscious. Second, I turn the experience into a metaphor of some spiritual truth. To a Christian, what could picking an apple represent except original sin? Third, I give the spiritual truth a first-person perspective. In "The Apple Tree," I see myself as having fallen with Adam, and I thank God that by His grace I do not have to pay the penalty.
The attempt to draw connections between a work of art and the life experience of the artist is a doubtful business. The artist is a creative spirit, who takes the materials of life and fashions them as he wills to achieve artistic aims. Chief among his aims, if he is a good artist, is to make something beautiful with universal meaning. The final product may contain biographical references, but these support the larger message, which might be quite different from what the message would be if the artist were interested solely in self-expression.
It might help the reader if I explain the background of some of my poems.
Sometimes, as an artistic exercise, a poet may explore the limits of exaggeration. "Soul's Testimony" is my attempt to create a poem with extravagant imagery and secret puns after the manner of John Donne, a poet I have admired ever since my undergraduate days, when I wrote several papers on him. A careful reader will find an expansion of Donne's famous pun on his own name. I wrote the poem when I was bedridden with a bad case of the flu. Composing verses is something I do when I am sick to pass the time and cheer myself up. A sickbed perspective is evident in other poems also, especially "November Day."
"Fireside" shows me in combat with forces of evil. It is ironic that when I wrote this poem, I did not even believe that the devil exists. I viewed spiritual warfare as a useful metaphor in describing the struggle for existence. The time came, however, when I discovered that Christianity is real and evolution is metaphorical.
While I lived away from God, I suppressed feelings of guilt as much as possible, but could not keep them from finding expression in such poems as "Olympic Speed Skaters." I was even less successful in hiding from myself the great loss I suffered in giving up any hope of eternal life. I sensed that a part of me had been torn away, and I viewed the shortness of my remaining years with great unease. Fear of death surfaces in such poems as "Prophecy" and "Snowfall."
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.