During a course in American Literature at Furman, I gained a great appreciation for our Southern poet, Sidney Lanier. That admiration was joined later by a fond regard for the London preacher and prolific writer, the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead. In one of Dr. Weatherhead’s sermon anthologies, I found a sermon entitled, “Resting in God’s Infinity,” in which he makes liberal use of Sidney Lanier’s poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” Do you know the lines? “By so many roots as the marsh grass sends in the sod, behold, I will lay me ahold on the greatness of God!”
I think of that poem each time I drive by the simple but spacious house on Highway 108 in Tryon, with the marker out front that announces that Sidney Lanier died in that home. He had come to the North Carolina foothills in the hope that our Thermal Belt climate would help him recover from tuberculosis, the illness that eventually took his life.
Quite often, too, I will try to remember the lyrics of another poem, less-well-known, which Lanier wrote in praise of Jesus of Nazareth. It speaks eloquently of the poet’s reverence for the Galilean. Here is the climax of that poem:
But Thee, but Thee, O Sovereign Seer of time,
But Thee, O poet’s Poet, Wisdom’s tongue,
But Thee, O man’s best Man, O love’s best Love,
O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all men’s Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest -
What “if” or “yet,” what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Of influence loose, what lack of grace
Even in torture’s grasp, or sleep’s, or death’s -
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, thou Crystal Christ?
Somehow, the poets seem to say it better than the theologians, without needing to quarrel so much. Go down the list. The Brownings, Lord Byron, William Jennings Bryan — so many of them proclaim the greatness of God, the wisdom of our Heavenly Father, the sweetness of a Savior’s love. May I quote Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who had a first-hand experience with Jesus Christ Himself and wrote about Him.
He wakes desires you never may forget,
He shows you stars you never saw before;
He makes you share with Him forevermore
The burden of the world’s divine regret.
From among the 6,000 or so hymns of Charles Wesley, one stands out for me. It is this one:
“Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad the honors of Thy name.
Jesus, the name that calms my fears, that bids my sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears, ‘tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.
A poet who predates all the poets mentioned above, by several millennia, once declared, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork.” A question, please: If all Creation, the best Poetry, the loveliest Art, the richest Music, and all the greatest minds of every generation could recite and depict and sing Christ’s praises, how do we explain our silence? “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”