In Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry, editors Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson present a thoughtfully selected collection of devotional lyric poetry. From its origins in ancient hymnody to its twenty-first century incarnations, devotional poetry in the English language has undergone many changes in style, but its appeal has endured for more than three thousand years. Hopler and Johnson explain their goal in the preface: “This anthology brings together some of the finest poems of the Western literary tradition and does so with the hope of generating a conversation—not just among scholars, artists, and academics, but among readers generally—about the relationships among literature, history, and the idea of the spiritual.”
Most of the poems in Before the Door of God are “addresses to the unknown, conversations (albeit one-sided) with the divine, in whatever way these authors have interpreted that term.” And as the editors consider the pieces as works of art rather than literal representations of faith, the devotional gesture that they have defined is not “uncomplicatedly doctrinal.” Not all the poets in the anthology are formally religiously affiliated, but they all grapple with issues of faith in their writing. As a preview, here is a selection of some lines from the anthology:
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, & seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’rthrow mee,’ and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn, & make me new.
—Holy Sonnet 14, John Donne
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
—i thank You God for most this amazing, e. e. cummings
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings
—Pied Beauty, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.
—[Forgive, O Lord, Robert Frost]
Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.
—Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot
Each day with so much ceremony
begins, with birds, with bells,
with whistles from a factory;
such white-gold skies our eyes
first open on, such brilliant walls
that for a moment we wonder
“Where is the music coming from, the energy?
—Anaphora, Elizabeth Bishop
Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. All rights reserved.