Front page


God in a teapot

21 Dec 10 | Re: Poetry, religion, search and discovery

I said when I was writing about haiku that I would return to the subject of seasons in poems. Now it’s the winter solstice, so as the afternoon darkens, what better time to venture into the bleak midwinter?

Before, I wrote that the names of seasons have a certain power in poetry because they capture both the particular and the universal - a certain instant in time that also forms part of an eternal, repeating cycle. In Johnson’s Rasselas, the sage Imlac comments that “The business of a poet is to examine not the individual, but the species.” The seasons help the poet to do this, by generalising a particular experience into something that every reader will recognise.

This brings me, seasonally, to Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter. Like a haiku, this is a poem that invokes a season to great effect. By describing particular details of the place into which the baby Jesus was born, be they even so fanciful as iron-hard ground and frozen streams in Palestine, Rossetti artfully illuminates one of the central points of the Christmas story: that God, an eternal, omnipresent being, chose to become incarnate in one particular place.

At that time, God had a dual presence. The question “Where is God?” would have had two correct answers: (1) He is everywhere; and (2) He’s in that stable over there, under the star. (Just as there are usually two answers to “What is this poem about?”)

This gets me thinking about the answer to “Where is God?” in the present day. We know that God is everywhere; but does this mean, for example, that he is in my teapot?

I would say not ordinarily, but possibly. I can imagine, just, how at some time a person could possibly have a religious/poetic experience that involved a teapot, or some tea. A train of thought that started with tea could lead to a greater thought that could bring new understanding or a new outlook on life, and in such a case, the thinker could be said to have found God in a teapot. So just as no object is irredeemably prosaic, neither is any object irredeemably profane. To put it another way, God is not always to be found everywhere, but he can be found in any given place. God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean that you keep tripping over him, but it does mean that wherever you look, if you do look, there is a chance that your search will be fruitful.

Posted by JOE SMALL at 16:13

[Back to main blog]

[Or dive into the blarchive...]

Take me home