Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry

Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry

by Jay Hopler
     
 

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Before the Door of God traces the development of devotional English-language poetry from its origins in ancient hymnody to its current twenty-first-century incarnations. The poems in this volume demonstrate not only that devotional poetry—poetry that speaks to the divine—remains in vigorous practice but also that the tradition reaches back to…  See more details below

Overview


Before the Door of God traces the development of devotional English-language poetry from its origins in ancient hymnody to its current twenty-first-century incarnations. The poems in this volume demonstrate not only that devotional poetry—poetry that speaks to the divine—remains in vigorous practice but also that the tradition reaches back to the very origins of poetry in English.
 
Featuring the work of poets over a three-thousand-year period, Before the Door of God places the devotional lyric in its cultural, historical, and aesthetic contexts. The volume traces the various influences on this tradition and identifies features that persist in devotional lyric poetry across centuries, cultures, and stylistic differences. To scholars, literary professionals, and general readers who find delight in fine poetry, this anthology offers much to contemplate and discuss.

Editorial Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Philip Metres

“Crucial . . . spans the entirety of the English poetry canon . . . It is difficult to imagine English poetry without the stunningly memorable devotional poetry included in this book . . . Groundbreaking.”—Philip Metres, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Marginalia Review of Books - Luke Johnson

“The moments in which we reach for prayer [are] the moments in which this book becomes indispensable. Johnson and Hopler are expert curators, and the book they have made is for anyone interested in the questions we ask when there aren’t any immediate answers.”—Luke Johnson, Marginalia Review of Books
JM Northern Media LLC - Great Southeast Book Festival

Runer-up for the 2014 Great Southeast Book Festival in the Poetry category.
Choice - J. P. Baumgaertner
“This rich and unique compendium of poetry will delight those interested in traditional English poems of devotion, in the ancient roots of the tradition, and in contemporary devotional poets who may be less familiar. . . . The surprises in this collection are manifold.”—J. P. Baumgaertner, Choice
USA Best Book Awards

Winner of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards in the Religion/General category.
Tikkun - David Danoff

“A beautifully produced volume . . . designed for pleasurable reading. Brief but thought-provoking essays introduce each section, and cogent headnotes introduce each author.”—David Danoff, Tikkun

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300175202
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
10/31/2013
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
918,193
Product dimensions:
7.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Before the Door of God

An Anthology of Devotional Poetry


By Jay Hopler, Kimberly Johnson

Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2013 Yale University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-17520-2



CHAPTER 1

The Ancient Origins of the Devotional Lyric


THE POETIC TRADITION IN Western culture traces its roots to the Mediterranean civilizations of the ancient world, and from the first, the devotional impulse has found expression in poetry. Among the oldest poems known to us are the Homeric Hymns, ancient poems in praise of Greek deities, which were written down after a long period of oral transmission. Ancient hymns were intended to be chanted or sung, by one singer or by a chorus of singers, and utilized the formal structures of poetry—including rhythm, sonic effects, and formal parallelism—to achieve both musicality and memorability. Roman hymns, which developed under the influence of Greek poetry, adopted Greek measures and modes even as they adopted and Romanized Greek deities.

The standard organization of these ancient hymns consisted of an invocation, a section in which the god is praised, and a petition. The invocation invites the deity to listen to the hymn, to give ear to its praises and pleas. In the laudatory section, the petition seeks to win the god's favor by glorifying the god's might and actions; this section often runs toward epic, as the hymn may include a long and flattering account of the god's history, making special mention of past instances in which the god displayed a willingness to help mortals. Finally, the petitioner requests some favor or assistance from the deity, a request that often comes on behalf of the civic community, as when the writer of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter concludes with a request that the goddess grant abundance and plenty to men. Though this structure persists throughout ancient hymnody, the poems themselves gave voice to a spectrum of emotional positions from praise to complaint to a persuasion approaching bribery (the Homeric Hymn to Apollo promises that if the god grants the petitioner's request, he will write poems that bear the god's reputation to all cities).

Devotional poems of the Hebrew Bible trace a slightly different ancestry, related to hymn-like celebrations of the gods from Egypt and Mesopotamia, but like the hymns of ancient Greece and Rome, they seem to have been made use of in ritual contexts, and were sung and played in temple ceremonies. The Book of Psalms was translated into Koine Greek as part of the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew canon undertaken in large part by Alexandrian Jews beginning in the third century B.C.E., which indicates the degree to which ancient Greek and Hebrew cultures overlapped. As Christianity developed in the region, it appropriated texts and philosophies fromeach of these major ancient cultures; indeed, Christianity's indebtedness to Greek, Roman, and Hebraic texts and traditions helped ensure the preservation of the literary and philosophical texts of antiquity even after these cultures had passed the period of their ascendancy.

This rich hymnic tradition interacted in exciting ways with the ancient genre of lyric poetry, which expressed or approximated personal emotions in musical structures. Most hymns of the ancient world are corporate expressions, offering petitions on behalf of a community, and their stance is largely honorific toward the deity and imperative toward humanity in exhorting all to praise; further, by spending much time summarizing the deeds of the deity, hymns prioritize the narrative they tell to celebrate the deeds and qualities of the god, rather than prioritizing the private negotiation of some concern as lyric generally does. In contrast to the hymnic tradition, lyrics are grappling rather than laudatory, processual rather than summative, personal rather than corporate. Still, many ancient poems reflect the close proximity of lyric and hymnic modes, and the works selected here demonstrate how easily the hymnic mode blurs into lyric conventions, as their ancient authors move between praise and complaint, cajoling and vaunting, ever seeking to define not only the deity being addressed but the position of the speaking self.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Before the Door of God by Jay Hopler, Kimberly Johnson. Copyright © 2013 Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author


Jay Hopler is associate professor of English at the University of South Florida. Kimberly Johnson is professor of English at Brigham Young University.
 

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