What is it? Is rap poetry? How do we define “poetry”?
Well, linguist Elizabeth Pyatt claims that rap is indeed a poetic form. Read her blog for more on that, because rap isn’t the topic of this post.
This is the difference between English teachers and linguists. For linguists, a technical definition of “poetry” has to be scientifically objective; under the definition that Pyatt gives, rap is a form of poetry. Now it’s often bad poetry, but there’s plenty of that too across the centuries. It’s just that a lot of bad poetry hasn’t survived. But since I’d have little to add to the discussion for which Pyatt argues her case for rap as poetry, let us move on to what I’m really talking about. A little bit about good poetry.
A piece of work does not have to be “pretty” to be poetry. The Iliad is not pretty. I think it can be a work of great beauty, but nobody who had a sense of precision would in his right mind call it “pretty”. And this kind of beauty is necessary too. A diet cannot consist of only dainty foods. When we reflect upon the beauty of God through our appreciation of beauty in His creation, we would be wrong to think “pretty”. Unlike a crocus, whose beauty lasts only a few days, the Lord of hosts is not ephemeral, nor is He weak. If angels are beautiful and terrible (see Isaiah and Ezekiel if you believe me not), then the mighty God who created the universe is so much more.
There is something greatly worthwhile in lyrical poetry: it can remind us of God’s tenderness and affection for us, and it echoes our own range of emotions, expressing them in beautiful, often very refined, language, to the benefit of our minds and souls. But God’s love endures forever: it is not something that can be blasted away, or apart, by any typhoon, for even from everlasting to everlasting He is God, the God whose essence and being does not change. Thus His holiness, which includes His agape love, His faithfulness, His mercy, His justice and a host of other things, does not change.
Because God is love, love, being an expression of His essence, is also powerful, beautiful and awesome to behold. This is why we have reason to read from the Iliad and find in it great beauty amid the evils so to which Robert E. Lee refers when he says, “It is good that war is so terrible, that we should not grow too fond of it.” It is raw. Yet even in such a bloody book we find a picture of deep love in the way that Hector loves his wife Andromache. The form of love, the metre and everything, is in God’s intersection with the human race.
Love on the shelf is dead and useless. It is not only like faith without works, in a sense it actually is faith without works. It is a potent thing that cannot exist apart from life and apart from which life could not exist. It must be used to be recharged, and its power, from God Himself, cannot be taken or used lightly. It demands gravity and responsibility, and he who bears it bears part of God’s power and, when Christ is in him, part of God’s very representation in His eternal and living Word.
God’s poetry is not to be trifled with. It is more dense and incisive than the best shi, more intimate and emotional than the best sonnet or ci, greater and broader and more powerful than an epic. Why? In the pages of the entire history of the universe it has been written, and at the cross the ink used was a red that made the things that it touched shine with radiance.