Conference at UG: The Power of the Word.Poetry: Word Made Flesh: Flesh Made Word 

Conference at UG: The Power of the Word.Poetry: Word Made Flesh: Flesh Made WordAbout the ConferenceProgrammePanel paper abstracts

Panel paper abstracts


Anna Abram and Michael Kirwan (Heythrop College, University of London);

Human and Divine Reaching Out in the Poetry of Czesław Miłosz

As a close-hand witness of National Socialist and Communist inhumanity, Czeslaw Milosz understood his task as a  poet to bear witness, beyond cheap sentiment and easy theodicy, to this darkest of times. An explicitly religious dimension to this witness is inescapable.  His verse is often about prayer, and even takes the form of direct address to the Divine. Prayer, for Milosz, 'constructs a velvet bridge', which leads to the shore of 'Reversal/Where everything is just the opposite'. Even if there is no other shore, we walk the bridge just the same. In this image, religious and moral aspiration on the one hand, and the paradoxical affirmations and negations of poetry on the other, are aligned in the mutual quest for human and divine integrity. This presentation will use the insights of virtue ethics and theological aesthetics to explore this mutuality in more detail.



Christopher Alexander (Ave Maria University)

Lyric Darkness and the Mysterium of the Poet

Beginning with the epic descent into the underworld and moving forward through the history of poetry, there is a recurrence of images of darkness which evoke a sense of mystery. Certain of these images suggest that for the poets the images point beyond themselves to a greater, encompassing mysterium in which the poets discover their office as poets.

In the Inferno, Dante speaks of being “ushered into those mysteries”; Donne calls to the night to “environ me with darkness, whilst I write”; Keats describes the “negative capability” as a standing in “mystery…without any irritable reaching after facts and reasons”; and Dickinson refers to those “Larger—Darknesses” to which sight must accustom itself. Poets acknowledge the darkness not simply as poetic trope, image or idea but as an aspect of reality existentially encountered, one which defines and is in turn defined by the creative act.

Arising out of this encounter, the poet’s office becomes bound to the act of incarnating, of giving form or embodying. The poetic act thus constitutes a second, imitative fiat. This fiat, giving the darkness form and intelligibility through language, transforms what is initially experienced as an unknowing into a dwelling within the obscure but immanent mystery of the human condition.

Through close readings of poems by Donne and Dickinson, I draw attention to the use of images of darkness and attempt to provide a starting point for further explorations of the fundamentally incarnational mystery of the poet’s office. 



Ewa Borkowska (University of Silesia)

G.M.Hopkins and Zbigniew Herbert: Poetry “compared to the air we breathe”

The dilemma of the value and significance of poetry today, as well as the reason for which the poets so often address nature/Nature as an immediate source of creative inspiration, has been faced by Jay Parini, for whom the relevance of poetry today becomes one of the most intellectual challenges reflected upon in his seminal work Why Poetry Matters. Parini addresses R.W.Emerson whose reflections on poetic language dwell on the dualism of spirit and matter, words and things, imaginary and real images, nature and nurture. In R. Frost’s essay “Education by Poetry” poetic language is viewed as synonymous with the language of metaphor, the one that gives access to “metaphorical thought, its operations and dynamic”. Poetic language is “intimately connected to natural objects” (as in Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert) and “poets always seek inspiration in nature” or Nature (eg. G. M. Hopkins, S. Heaney) by sending us back to the natural world, being otherwise threatened by global phenomena which are inimical to poetic art. For Hopkins, poetry is a “form of religious thought” and gives us the “spiritual direction”; it teaches man how to live and shape his “power of taste” (Zbigniew Herbert). The poet is the one who lives in communion with Nature and can express, by way of Imagination, “the things unknown” which his pen “turns into shapes to give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name” (Shakespeare). While for Hopkins, poetry has always been “charged with the grandeur of God” and has constantly articulated the “freshness […] deep down things”, Zbigniew Herbert’s poems have always been the “guardians of memory in the times of amnesia”.



Francesca Bugliani-Knox (Heythrop College, University of London)

T. S. Eliot and "the word made flesh":

The Case of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

T. S. Eliot called metaphysical that form of poetry where “an idea, or what is only ordinarily apprehensible as an intellectual statement, is translated in sensible form, so that the world of sense is actually enlarged.” In metaphysical poetry – as Eliot put it, and Grierson and Read had suggested before him–the word is made flesh, thought becomes incarnate.

This type of poetry which “makes the word flesh”, was connected, Eliot explained, to the different ways in which man attains or strives to attain to the “divine vision or enjoyment of God”, namely, to different types of mysticism. He singled out three historical periods, each depending on contemporary developments in “philosophy and mysticism” and saw himself and his own poetry as representatives of the modern, twentieth –century version of metaphysical poetry.

In this paper I will illustrate the ways in which the word “becomes flesh” in Eliot’s poetry. I will then discuss the implications that Eliot’s idea of poetry as ‘word made flesh’ has for the role of Eliot’s readers and interpreters. Finally, as a way of conclusion, I hope to show that it is exactly through Eliot’s understanding of poetry as ‘word made flesh’ that his poems partake of the principles of modernist poetics. Eliot’s concept of ‘word made flesh’ is indeed analogous to but not identifiable with the Augustinian tradition of verbum interius.



Mark Burrows (University of Applied Sciences, Bochum)

 “Like a Word Still Ripening in the Silences”: 

Rainer Maria Rilke and the Transformations of Poetry

The title of this talk derives from Gaston Bachelard, and his notion of poetry as “oneiric, ” a dreaming into being of a larger world, a process he describes by speaking of how “a multiple cogito takes on new life in the closed world of a poem.”  I intend to explore this notion through the lens of two of Rilke’s poems:  the early poem “Eingang” (“Entrance”) that opens his Das Buch der Bilder (1902), and a late poem from The Sonnets to Orpheus II, 21, “Sing the gardens, my heart, that you don’t know” (1922).  What I intend to explore, by means of a meditative reading of these poems, is how Rilke’s poetic images function like of paintings—indeed, one might better translate the title of this early collection for this reason as The Book of Pictures or The Book of Paintings rather than its familiar rendering as The Book of Images.  For Rilke’s poems do not simply give us images, but rather come to dwell within us much like paintings do, luring our mind through the play of layered surfaces toward those silent depths where all images find their origin.  In this sense, as Bachelard reminds us, “we never finish dreaming the poem, never finish thinking it.”  This inexhaustible energy of dreaming or imagining—or “world-making”—is what poems ignite within us.  I would even suggest that precisely this energy is what is theological about poetry, whether or not it has any explicit reference to the divine.  For as the poetic image begins to “radiate” within our minds, we find that we have “made the world, ” as Rilke puts it in “Entrance”; the poet’s imagination meets the reader’s, inviting us to praise what we do not “know” in a narrow sense, expanding the way we indwell our world by luring us to “dream” it in the deep of the imagination.  In this sense, poems invite us—again drawing on Rilke—to “dream” our way into a larger and truer world by “go[ing] out / of your little room where you know everything; / for your house stands at the edge of distances” (“Entrance”).



Jamie Callison (University of Northampton/ University of Bergen)

Celestial Music Unheard: ‘Marina’ and the Christian Mystical Experience

This paper continues the revisionist work of writers such as Lee Oser and Barry Spurr, who seek to situate Modernist literature in relation to Christian culture.  In this regard, I will analyse how T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘Marina’ is situated within a debate about the nature of mysticism. 

 ‘Marina’ had its genesis in Eliot’s reading of Wilson G. Knight’s analysis of Shakespeare’s late plays in ‘Myth and Miracle, ’ where Knight suggests that the recognition scenes tap into a mystical truth.  I will argue that Knight’s understanding of mysticism was formed through his engagement with the universalistic understanding of mysticism that he found in James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience and, indeed, that this model of mysticism dominated in the Modernist period and continues to influence critical understandings of the role of mysticism in the period today. 

While he studied James’s work as a student at Harvard, I will explore how Eliot’s engagement with the Christian mystical tradition, through his reading and his own spiritual practice, changed his understanding of mysticism and led to his use of elements of the via negativa mystical tradition to re-present the otherworldliness of the Pericles/ Marina reunion that inspires the poem.  I will go onto suggest that, while ‘Marina’ responds to the mystical components of Knight’s thesis, Eliot modulates the staging of the poem in order to militate against the Jamesian understanding of mystical experience. 



Stefano Maria Casella (Libera Università di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM)

Eugenio Montale: “The poor (and pure) nestorian at a loss …”

The Italian poet Eugenio Montale (Nobel Prize for Literature 1975) experienced qua homine and qua poeta a lifelong search for, and struggle with, the Divine—the latter oxymorically manifesting/hiding itself mainly as a Deus Absconditus --or embodied in angelic female figures. Educated by the Barnabiti Fathers in Genoa a century ago, Montale then self taught himself through eclectic readings in theology, religion, philosophy, psychology, and science: his juvenile readings included E. Hello, H.F. Amiel, P. Caudel, E. Bergson, A. Shopenhauer, G. Rensi and other Catholic  modernists.

Such a troubled quest is mirrored throughout his fifty-years-long poetical opus (1925-1977 ca.): from an initial “spero” quia impossibile sceptical expectation of unattainable miracles too soon frustrated, to a final and disillusioned bitter irony and biting parody of belief/s, theological concepts, metaphors, images, and texts.

It is however in the central and most dramatic phase of his poetry, La Bufera e altro – for the most part composed during 2nd w.w.-- that his painful anguished search for a historical and transcendental meaning of Life, Suffering, Love, Sacrifice, most compellingly manifests itself. In ‘Iride’ (1943/44) he emblematically defines himself a “povero Nestoriano smarrito” (a poor Nestorian at a loss.) The expression --more poetical and existential than theological-- mirrors Montale’ spiritual  eclecticism, which also shows traces of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, nihilism and Stoicism (this being all but a “contra haereticos” paper), but heralds also a sincere, quasi-mystical acceptance of the mystery and silence of the Absolute.



Irena Chawrilska (University of Gdansk)

The metaphysical qualities of the hybrid work of art

The main issue of this paper is a metaphysics in relation to a hybrid work of art.

I will focus on the attempt to describe the works in which the integration of visual and verbal signs occurred (on selected examples), which in effect changes the perception of such works. Language in this type of works (located on the border between literature and visual arts), and in fact the writing with its visual aspects, is the material that serves as the foundation of the process of forming an artwork. At the core of hybrid works lies the ontological heterogeneity, because the carrier of sense is not homogeneous in their case. An important role is played by the materiality of the work, which also fulfills the semantic role. From the perspective of literary studies and the “baggage” of Ingarden’s  category, the situation is worrying. I concentrate on  hybrids that are at the interface between literature and the visual arts, which include: concrete poetry, artistic book, liberature and literature related to new media.

If the materiality of the works plays such an important role in the hybrid works of art, in what sense it is possible to talk about the metaphysics in the case of such works. Does ontological heterogeneity and important role of the form annul the metaphysics aspects of the hybrid work of art? In this paper I will try to show that it is possible to distinguish a few metaphysical aspects of the hybrid work of art at various levels of it.

I will try to analyze the category of metaphysics in relation to the hybrid works of art on the background of philosophical texts by Luigi Pareyson. What does “formation of the work of art” according to Luigi Pareyson mean? Is the theory of Luigi Pareyson still current in relation to hybrid works of art? My considerations are based on the spatial poetry by Ilse Garnier and the concrete poetry by Marianna Bocian, Marian Grześczak and Andrzej Partum.



Michał Choiński (Jagiellonian University)

Word Made "Flesh" in Jonathan Edwards’ Sermonic Imagery

The revival sermons of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) are famous for their dense, complex imagery and vivid figurativeness derived from the Scripture. The artistic quality of his writings is beyond doubt the product of a poetic mind who sought to spread the "fire" of the revival (at the times of the First Great Awakening in American colonies) and to instigate zealousness of religion in the hearts of his listeners. In my conference paper I want to conduct a detailed rhetorical analysis of some of the poetic images Edwards included in his sermons (in particular in The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God). Using the analytical tools offered by classical rhetoric, as well as cognitive linguistics, I intend to demonstrate how Edwards operates with sensual and corporal imagery in his visions of hell, the suffering of the damned souls and saving grace to render his texts more appealing and persuasive and to turn the "word" into "flesh" in the minds of his audiences.


Carmen Doerge (University of Tuebingen)

The Word made Flesh in Metaphysical Poetry

Poets writing about God are necessarily challenged by the problem of how to depict something that is neither comprehensible nor graspable by men. This talk will examine how metaphysical poets John Donne and George Herbert deal with this problem and how they find an alternative to strictly apophatic or cataphatic descriptions of God. I shall show how they employ different techniques of indirectness to write about the divine and about the speaker’s connection to God in specific texts. These techniques include, for example, semantic and syntactic underspecification (Herbert’s systrophic poem “Prayer I” refrains from creating explicit connections between the depictions it provides for “prayer”), periphrasis (Donne’s “The Canonization” provides lists of descriptions to circumscribe a mysterious process of transformation), ambiguity (in Herbert’s “The Search” the speaker approximates himself to God by pleading, “‘Be not Almighty, ’ let me say, / ‘Against, but for me.’”), paradox (Donne’s “The Canonization” states, “The phoenix riddle hath more wit / By us; we two being one, are it”), indirectness (in Herbert’s “Heaven” the speaker’s questions, unanswerable my men, are answered by an enigmatic echo) or paralipsis (in Donne’s “Goodfriday 1613” the crucifixion is not seen by the speaker, but comes into existence in the poem through the detailed description of what the speaker does not see). Through the use of these strategies, the individual speakers create depictions of and connections to God which are full of meaning, while avoiding presumptuousness and stereotype.



Katarzyna Dudek (Warsaw University)

World as the Icon of the Word: Sacramental Imagination in R.S. Thomas’s Nature Poems

R. S. Thomas claimed repeatedly that the core of his twin vocation of a priest-poet was the mystery of Incarnation. In fact, he would see the whole created world as the sacrament that speaks of God, hence his interest in nature and physical realities that direct towards spiritual truths: “The sacramental side is there at the root … I feel when I act as a poet or when I act as a priest that I am doing the same work: conveying the sacrament of the earth, God’s earth, to people” (Thomas in Brown, “Language, Poetry and Silence” 165).

The aim of this paper is to analyze the work of sacramental imagination in the chosen nature poems of the poet-priest. It may be claimed that in those poems the world is presented as iconological, i.e. as the icon of the Logos. On the one hand, the created world seem to be translucent, half-revealing, half-hiding God’s presence, and always pointing beyond its own visibility towards the Invisible and Unnamable (Jean-Luc Marion). On the other hand, since the spirit is incarnated in each human being, we are capable of contemplating the world with sacramental eyes. Nature becomes the place of silent communion and communication between man and God. A poet is therefore invited to read this icon of the Word and render its silent language in his own verse which very often follows the path of negative theology.



Mary Elizabeth Esser (Wake Forest University)

“One feels its action moving in the blood”: Arrhythmia as the Art of Reality in Wallace Steven’s Esthétique du Mal

  This paper focuses on the theme of “flesh made word” by examining how Wallace Stevens relies upon a language metaphor of the human heartbeat in Esthétique du Mal to reconcile his speaker’s internal desire for life everlasting with the transient rhythms of his corporal existence. 

  According to Homi Bhabha, the “language metaphor” is one which deconstructs our understanding of linguistic signage by separating certain concepts from their traditional linguistic signifiers and positing these concepts in the audible qualities of other words. Nietzsche stresses in Ecce Hommo that the art of reality is that which communicates both the external nature of mortality as well as man’s internal struggle with this mortality, not only “by means of signs” but also “through the tempo of those signs.” Stevens, like Nietzsche, recognizes words as conscious constructions that we use to remedy our resentment of mortality. However, while Nietzsche’s theory would suggest that illustrations of divinity and reality are mutually exclusive, Stevens suggests that one can escape these binaries by endowing his words with the realities of the flesh. The words that we use to articulate our existence are assigned physicality through rhythm when they are spoken aloud or heard because they become subject to the same reality of temporal existence that we are. Unlike many romanticist poets who try to create an experience of the sublime through decadent text, Stevens brings the notion of divinity back into the metres of reality through the use of disyllabic and trisyllabic phrases that create a language metaphor for the natural rhythm of the human heartbeat and the theophanic arrhythmias that tend to disrupt it.



Marta Gibinska (Tischner European University)

Macbeth: From Word to Flesh to Word

The power of the dramatic potential of poetry in this tragedy is exceptional and relies on the relation between word [image, metaphor] and the actor's (actors') flesh [blood, hands, hair on end, etc.]  Rather than postulating any specific performance of the analysed passages, I would propose looking at the metaphysical action resulting from this relation, which I suggest should be considered the essential quality of this tragedy.



Kevin Grove (University of Cambridge)

The Word spoke in our words that we might speak in his: Augustine, Psalms, and the poetry of the Incarnate Word

Christian patristic authors believed that the poetry of the psalms revealed the words of Christ, not only because Christ spoke them in the New Testament, but because Christ continues to speak in them in Christians who pray them.  This is particularly evident in Augustine’s Expositions of the Psalms.  This paper shows how Augustine came to preach that Christ took up human words in order that humans might speak in Christ’s, thus being transfigured into him.  This conjunction of voices happens most naturally by means of the poetry of the psalms—sung and prayed together—where images that contrast or even oppose each other serve not as dualities, but as entries into the mystery of a life mediated by the Incarnate Word.  The paper will present the poetry of the psalms as the locus of this incarnational thinking, but also as the place where ongoing speech about God reveals the limits of speech.  Augustine believed that the psalms provided a unique and important way to speak constructively about the transfiguration of human actions—singing, leaping, dancing, mourning, weeping, longing—into Christ.  At the same time, Augustine reveals that words about these actions ultimately cannot express the full meaning of the encounter.  Human words fail where embodied praise of the Word reaches its earthly crescendo.  The paper concludes with the way in which praying the poetry of the psalms for Augustine brought about not only the transfiguration of life through words, but also the simultaneous emptying of words before the Word.


Małgorzata Grzegorzewska (University of Warsaw)

Words Born/Miscarried in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot

In St John’s Gospel, we read that even among the Jews who believed in Jesus, His word did not meet with due openness. His consequent address to the crowd, though it can be read in the immediate context of the approaching Passion, points beyond this to a universal predicament of stifled, even ‘miscarried’, words, which are rejected by the reluctant hearers:  “ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you” (John 8: 37). Christ’s dramatic association of petty inhospitality towards the Divine Word with outward, even deadly hostility against It, seems to underwrite also T. S. Eliot’s acute diagnosis, put into the mouth of an old man in “Gerontion”. The speaker of Eliot’s meditation on humanity’s old age discovers the deadly sterility of human communication: “the word within a word, unable to speak a word”. This paper will confront this voice from the “wasteland” of humanity’s “dry season” with its exact opposite, i.e. the ideal union outlined in the Clark Lectures, of poetry that “elevates sense for a moment to regions ordinarily attainable only by abstract thought, or on the other hand clothes the abstract, for a moment, with all the painful delight of flesh.” This clue will help us to pinpoint the hiatuses in Eliot’s rehearsal of “sensual thought”, from the missing “hot gates/ warm rain / and salty marshes” which are not part of Gerontion’s experience, through the “cold coming” of the Magi, to the trace of “ash on an old man’s sleeve”, which is all that remains of “the ash the burnt roses leave” in Little Gidding.



Wacław Grzybowski (University of Opole)

Incarnation and Human Community in Bl. Karol Wojtyła’s “Thinking My Country”

Zofia Zarębianka in her famous essay on Wojtyła's poetry ("Medytacja znaczeń - o specyfice dykcji poetyckiej Karola Wojtyły") describes the uniqueness of his diction by means of the metaphor of "radiation." Wojty?a himself employs the very notion in the title of his poetic  drama "Radiation of Fatherhood." Indeed, the construction of meanings in his poetry possesses this specific quality of swift passage from natural images  to spiritual knowing. If the notion of "radiation" is to be applied to the metaphors created by him, one has to specify  Zarębianka's idea with the help of the notion of analogy, which allows to draw nearer, in both theological and poetic knowings, to what is obscurely known or even unknown. Such is the mystery of the Incarnation of God into human nature, the consequence of which is not only the mystery of Christ's Eucharist and  Cross, so frequently addressed by Wojtyła, but also the resonance of the Incarnation within human minds that encourages creation of community. Therefore, the metaphoric analogies in his early poems find particular continuity in his later texts such as Thinking My Country, whose structure of meanings is the main topic of my paper. What is interesting, the community in Wojtyla's vision is not only of religious but also of cultural character.



Karolina Janczukowicz (University of Gdansk)

“To Snow” by Maria Pawlikowska – Jasnorzewska as an Example of “God sacrificing Himself in matter”

The paper (within the theme of “Spirit and flesh in poetry”) will present an analysis of a short poem by the Polish poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska: “Do Śniegu” (To Snow). Both the original version and a translation will be used in the discussion.

The paper will cover three main dimensions; firstly, the metaphors used in the poem, such as snow as the Lamb of God, sweeping away ugliness as the Lamb cleanses sins; falling (of snow) as kneeling down, etc.; secondly, the downward direction adopted here, which is a key element in understanding the poem; and thirdly, the imagery and contrasting moods, discussed as meaningful elements of the poem.

The concluding interpretation will suggest that two effects are achieved in the poem: first, a union between the concept of ugliness and the concept of sin, and a consequent union between the principle of beauty and that of good; second, the possibility of seeing the image of snow (which, through its descent and contact with the ground, redeems the physical world from ugliness) as a way of perceiving God, who, by adopting a physical body in the form of Jesus Christ, redeemed the spiritual world from sin. Thanks to these two effects, the poem becomes a perfect instance of a way of conveying the idea of “God sacrificing Himself in matter.”



Sonia Jaworska

“Begotten, not Made”: The Word Being Born / the Word Giving Birth in the Poetry of Richard Crashaw

The paper seeks to explore the metaphors of conception, birth and maternity in the mystical poetry of Richard Crashaw. The Divine Word in his poems is not only the beginning  of all things, as we read in the Gospel of St John, but nourishes and nurtures created being through His bountiful sacrifice.

The presentation will focus on the manner of the Divine Word’s physical presence in Crashaw’s poetry: both the Word and the Body are enclosed spaces of safe seclusion (a wardrobe, a nest, a casket, a cellar, an enclosed garden) and at the same time stores of infinite riches bestowed on the created world. In a manner reminiscent of the iconographic representation of Christ as a pelican (popularised by St Thomas's Eucharistic hymn), Crashaw presents a dynamic understanding of the Word as a divine gift, the original source of the amazing fecundity of human language, and also the actual spiritual “meat” provided in the Eucharistic sacrament. What is more, the paper will cover a special instance of the appearance of the Word in the form of the Name that enwombs and fertilises our existence. By exposing itself to man, Word Incarnate reveals the true nature of God and His parental attitude towards the creation. In the context of Crashaw's poetry of paradoxes, I shall ask how the Incarnation makes the Son of God, simultaneously, a child and a parent (with an emphasis laid on His overtly sensual and mother-like character).



Hester Jones (University of Bristol)

“This dark pool”: Feathers and Falls in R.S. Thomas

RS Thomas’ poetry has often been discussed in terms of its negative theology, its emphasis on a God known only and occasionally by traces. Here God known at a remove, and the experience of God’s absence is figured through a Welsh landscape that is often imagined as harsh, rugged and both occupied and abandoned by the colonial English. This elemental bleakness and linguistic baldness is also interrupted by sudden moments of epiphany and presence, moments where language, so often experienced as a hindrance to divine understanding, becomes translucent and irradiated with understanding. But there are also moments where Thomas seems to probe this transition and to look for locations and poetic landscapes in which absence and presence coexist more ambivalently but always richly. Tony Brown, among others, has suggested that the sea is a particularly fertile metaphor and presence in the poetry, expressing both natural and supernatural power; in this paper, I shall explore some of the ways in which the recesses and reflexes of water become a figure for  transcendent meaning, both eluding and inhabiting the twists and transience of language. Here Thomas can imagine an ‘immense depth’ that inspires both horror and desire: an abyss of nothingness in which Thomas’s God makes his home and to which the speaker is once again lured.  This is evident at many points but perhaps nowhere more powerfully than in the superb collection ‘The Echoes Return Slow’, which this paper will make its focus. 



Zbigniew Kubacki (Collegium Bobolanum)

Salvation, Logos and Poetry

The central question in Christianity, as in every religion, is the question of Salvation. In Christian theology, salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ: “… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Is it then possible for those who have never heard about him, because they lived before he was born, or because they belong to another religion, or simply because they are not religious people, to be saved? Within the history of Christian doctrine the answer to this question has varied. For centuries the exclusivist interpretation of the formula “No Salvation Outside the Church” condemned the majority of humanity to eternal damnation. Nevertheless, almost from the beginning, such great Fathers of the Church as St Justin and St Clement of Alexandria proposed another view, arising from the doctrine known as logoi spermatikoi (seeds of truth). People like Abel, Melchizedek, Moses or Socrates could be saved because in their lives they followed the true Logos, the One who, in Jesus Christ, “became flesh and dwelt among us”(John 1:14). Although they did not know Him, He, the Logos, the Incarnate God, was nevertheless the inspiration for many saints of the Old Testament and Greek philosophers. Can we, then, following the logoi spermatikoi theology of the Fathers, argue that He was and still is the inspiration for many poets, Christian and non-Christian, and therefore, that their poetry has (or might have) a theophanic or revelatory value, opening up a salvific connection with God?



David Lonsdale (Heythrop College, University of London)

Poetry in the Making: Ted Hughes and Words Made Flesh

Ted Hughes memorably described the genesis of a poem as word becoming flesh in ‘The Thought Fox’, possibly an example of poetry as word becoming flesh. At the same time, in his poetic practice all through his life, we see him turning flesh (people, animals, the material world) into words. In Poetry in the Making, a series of broadcasts aimed at helping teachers to help their pupils to develop the imagination and write poetry, as well as in other works, he describes and discusses at some length the different ways in which poetry happens.  And throughout his life he engaged in a continuing (and not often friendly) conversation with Christianity. This paper will examine Ted Hughes’ theory and practice of poetry as word into flesh and flesh into word. It will also ask whether there is any sense in Hughes’ work of a transcendent or religious dimension to the poetic word, and if there is, how that is to be understood.



Klaudia Łączyńska (University of Warsaw)

Word-as-Flesh Made Artefact: Andrew Marvell’s Poetic Moulding of the Word

Inspired by the topic of the conference, I would like to present Andrew Marvell’s concept of the poetic word.  However, his poetry does not seem to fit into either of the conference's major themes – it is neither word made flesh nor is it a transformation of flesh into word.  Marvell’s is the word as flesh, the word as clay that the poet can mould, showing his constant awareness of the materiality and palpability of sign.  Even in the poems which are clearly devotional in theme, the word (the voice) is not able (allowed?) to reach beyond the limits of the material world. It is earth-bound in its rebounding; when “it arrive[s] at Heaven’s vault” (“Bermudas”)  it does not reach beyond it but returns scattered and fragmented. The poet reminds us of the echoic and thus acoustic, material, and temporal quality of the word. But even if in Marvell’s hands the word becomes a palpable part of material reality, it still effects its transformation into an artefact – the only “beyond” that may be experienced in Marvell’s poetry. The aim of my paper is to discuss this “fleshy” materiality of the Marvellian word (against the background of contemporary philosophy of language) as well as to present the means of its transformation into an enduring object of art. 



David Malcolm (University of Gdansk)

Apophenia in the Fields: John Burnside’s Poetry and Prayers of the Commonplace

  The presence of religious motifs and religious purposes in John Burnside’s poetry has been noted in recent discussions of the Scottish poet’s verse. For example, James McGonigal (2006) writes of Burnside’s “unsettling” mixture of Christian, gnostic, and pagan imagery and describes it as part of a complex attempt to gain access to and embody the numinous in the everyday, and to offer another sphere of experience to that of a degraded environment and a degrading culture. Fiona Sampson (2011) remarks on Burnside’s “ecological, almost pantheistic spirituality.” Although some commentators – John Lucas (2007), for example – have been dismissive of the insubstantiality of the “numinous” in Burnside’s poetry, and Burnside himself has voiced his distance from established religion, his verse does embody and attempt to make the spiritual substantial, to demonstrate that, as he puts it in a pamphlet from 2003, “otro mundo es posible” (another world is possible).

  This paper explores the religious and the prayerful aspect of Burnside’s verse through an analysis of a brief lyric, “Septuagissima” (1992), and a longer text, the first section entitled “Landfill” of “Fields” (2000). Analysis points to the presence of religious motifs in these poems whereby the quotidian is translated, and to that of technical devices (phonological and rhythmic) seeking to embody intuitions of the transcendent. Burnside’s technique establishes a harmony and an order underlying the seemingly (and deliberately) fragmented surfaces of his poems. The spiritual is rendered material, and the material spiritual; the common place (the commonplace) is redeemed not only thematically, but substantially.



Bradford W. Manderfield (University of Leuven)

The Philosophical-Poetics of Metaxology

This paper examines the philosophical-poetics in the work of William Desmond. Desmond’s philosophy explores, in Pascal’s terms, the divide between l’espirit de finesse and l’espirit de géométrie. His work illustrates how poetry, adept in l’espirit de finesse, contributes to philosophy. Questions of God, in Desmond’s view, are the most natural questions to emerge in a human. However, in today’s context, questions of God and those of theological import have been subordinated: “I began to wonder if our being asleep to the question betokened a kind of bewitchment” (God and the Between 2008). Desmond’s corrective for this bewitchment is his poetics: a music to reverse the bewitchment. His philosophical-poetics renews urgency for the questions of God.

This paper will address how Desmond’s poetics, in particular, his metaxological method, is able to counteract the dulling that has occurred toward questions of God and theology. The neologism, “metaxology”, is an attempt to give a logos to the “metaxu”: the middle spaces of reality that resist a determinate logos. Poetry is integral to the process of accessing these indeterminate spaces, such as questions of God occupy, and filling such places with relevance. Metaxology, through a fiercely worded poetic, becomes Incarnational in two ways: (i) by defending the role of astonishment, which remains “half guessed…half understood, ” in Eliot’s words, and (ii) his strong poetic breaks a passive, analytical posture. The whole person becomes implicated (en-fleshed) within the mellifluous idea, fermenting a renewal to the urgency of abandoned God-questions.



Mirosława Modrzewska (University of Gdansk)

Robert Burns’ “Jarring Thoughts”: Carnivalesque Metaphorisations of Existentialist Spirituality

The paper will be devoted to a number of poems by Robert Burns in which the motifs of prayer or spiritual meditation may have a variety of functions and a variety of addressees. Most of them, however, employ the method of ironical recreation and re-semantization of carnal imagery, as in earlier seventeenth century ‘metaphysical’ models of poetry. Burns’s religiousness, or anti-religiousness, takes a variety of poetical forms ranging from meditative lyrics, such as ‘Tragic Fragment’ or ‘Remorse – a Fragment’, through ironical narrative poetry, such as ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ to the pseudo-parabolical ‘John Barleycorn – A Ballad’, which is based on a British folksong and through a personification of whiskey and a story of its production travesties the story of Golgotha, to conclude with a praise of old Scottish customs. In this type of humour, also typical of other of Burns’s poems, grotesque images of flesh and carnivalism are used for the creation of the poetic world and the comic is employed as a means of depicting chaos, as in ‘John Barleycorn – A Ballad’: ‘And they hae taen his very heart’s blood, / And drank it round and round;/ And still the more and more they drank, / Their joy did more abound.’ Burns’s epitaphs reveal a similar grotesque humour; their ‘spiritualism’ is inherently connected with his ‘thoughtless follies’ and with a type of emotionalism expressed in ‘violent anguish’ and bodily suffering (‘he crush’d him between two stones’). Burns’s mockery of the deceased bodies of his protagonists has the character of religious and literary provocation, as in the “Epitaph For William Nicol, Of The High School, Edinburgh” (“Ye maggots, feed on Nicol's brain, /For few sic feasts you've gotten; /And fix your claws in Nicol's heart, /For deil a bit o't's rotten”).



Marta Nowicka (University of Gdańsk)

A Suffering Body (of Work): Analysis of Selected Poems by Georg Trakl, Anna Swir and Miroslav Holub

For poets who have experienced conflicts and suffering, these experiences inevitably find expression in their oeuvre. In this paper, I wish to present the relation in the works of Georg Trakl (1887 – 1914), Anna Świrszczyńska (also known as Anna Swir) (1909–1984), and Miroslav Holub (1923 – 1998) between their experiences and their poetry. Although written in different periods, by authors of different origins, and based on different experiences, the poetry of Trakl, Swir and Holub carries universal messages and meanings, and voices universal fears. The paper, thus, focusing on selected examples, attempts to present the universal and common elements in the poems of the three distinctive authors to prove that each of them creates a suffering body of poetic work deeply rooted in their personal, tragic biographies – Trakl’s addictions and depression, Swir’s war-time experiences, Holub’s merger of scientific and artistic worlds in poems reflecting on mortality and political issues. The paper presents exemplifications of suffering bodies in the works of the poets, focusing on the poems in which “words constitute flesh and flesh creates words”. In those in which “words constitute flesh”, the poets verbalize what is often impossible to articulate – the horrors of war, human weakness and limitation. In those in which “flesh creates words”, suffering influences and pervades their poetry – as a motif and as a source of inspiration. Their poems express their suffering and they suffer through poetry, which also has a therapeutic aspect: it is a way of dealing with tragedies, with the changing world, and a tool used to search for meaning behind human suffering.



Marcin Polkowski (The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin)

The Sibyls and the ‘Word-that-became-Flesh’ in Renaissance Poetry and Iconography

During the Renaissance scholars and poets found the Sibylline oracles which had purportedly announced the birth of Christ to the Gentiles to be a useful platform for launching a symbolic discourse on the universality of the message of Christ's Incarnation. This was the statement that Michaelangelo made in powerful visual terms when he painted frescoes of the Sibyls alongside the Prophecy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In this time the Messianic word attributed to the Sibyls, retrieved from its original contexts, was re-invested with meaning and embedded in new narratives. Poets and artists explored new ways of re-confirming, in a time of great spiritual and intellectual tension, the validity of speaking to society on the unifying truth of the Incarnation, just as social groups in post-Reformation Europe were increasingly driven apart by religious and political conflict.

In my lecture I propose to discuss the intellectual and artistic phenomenon of narratives about the Sibylline oracles in northern-European literature (both vernacular and Latin in England and the Netherlands): from poetry and prose (e.g. by the Dutch priest-poet Joannes Stalpart van der Wiele), to cross-over genres such as the emblem. By engaging in an inter-semiotic analysis of these narratives I hope to demonstrate that the networks of discourses recollecting the Sibylline oracles offered early-modern poets and artists an inter-confessional platform on which they could restore, through words and images, a fractured sense of Christian unity, projecting the fundamental message that the Word that became Flesh had truly come to all nations.



Martin Potter (University of Bucharest)

Incarnation and Embodiment in the Poetry and Theoretical Writings of David Jones

  David Jones placed incarnation in the sacramental sense at the centre of his theorising about art, and saw the embodiment of culture as the fundamental task of art. He regarded sacramental incarnation as analogous to the embodiment of meaning and culture in the art work, and highlighted this aspect of his thinking by constantly representing the eucharistic liturgy in his poetry. This paper will discuss his theory that representation in art is analogous to the real presence in the Eucharist (as well as to the Incarnation), a theory which can be analysed in Thomist terms, but which can also be understood from the point of view of modern continental philosophy (especially Gadamer). Another important component of Jones’ theory of the embodying function of poetry, the bardic role of the poet, will also be considered, as well as Jones’ insistence, following from his theory of art as embodiment, that the poet must write about the particular and local. Finally, the paper will show how Jones self-consciously practises embodiment in his poetry, as he both contributes to the making of the culture of his time and place out of the available tradition, and compares what he is doing to what the priest does in the liturgy, by portraying priests celebrating liturgy as an integral part of some of his poetry.



Jennifer Reek (University of Glasgow)

Word into Flesh/Flesh into Word: Toward an Incarnational Textuality with Heidegger, Jasper and Cixous

In his remarkable trilogy on theology, literature, and the arts—The Sacred Desert, The Sacred Body, The Sacred Community—David Jasper often turns to the text of John’s prologue in what could be described as a decade-long meditation on the theme of ‘dwelling poetically’. The latter phrase originates in a Hölderlin poem, ‘Of lovely blueness . . .’: ‘Full of merit, yet poetically, man dwells on this earth.’ It is taken up by Heidegger, in his late poetic writings, to explore what it might be like to dwell poetically, which is, as Jasper puts it, ‘to move toward a new way of thinking itself and a new way of being—that is, finally, what it is to be fully human.’ Hélène Cixous, the French theorist, explores this same territory in her practice of écriture feminine, which includes a deeply incarnational component with its idea of ‘writing the body’. Cixous is also influenced by her readings of the later Heidegger, which cause her to take what has been called an ‘ascetic’ turn. What I should like to do in this paper is to engage the work of these three thinkers to mark a place in-between the two perspectives suggested for this conference: Either word made flesh, or flesh made word. What Heidegger, Cixous, and Jasper do in their reading/writing practices is something that changes that ‘either/or’ to a ‘both/and’. They enact in their writing an embodied poetic textuality in which the form itself is as important as the content in transforming the way we think and live.



Aaron Rosen (King’s College London, University of London)

“Black-Black Witness”:  Ad Reinhardt, Thomas Merton, and the Via Negativa

In 1956, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote to the poet Robert Lax to inquire if their friend Ad Reinhardt had “come forth with a black-black witness, ” adding allusively “Black upon black shall witness the white.”  The inquiry appears in a jocular note regarding a forthcoming project, for which Merton and Lax hoped their old comrade from Columbia University would contribute a cover image.  Despite the informal context of this exchange, Merton’s enigmatic words witness an acute grasp of Reinhardt’s apophatic project, especially in the black paintings that he produced obsessively from the 1950s until his death in 1967.  Indeed, Merton’s words instinctively mirror a poetic fragment jotted down by Reinhardt:  “No consciousness of anything / No consciousness of consciousness / All distinctions disappear in darkness / The darkness is the brilliance...numinous, resonance.”

In this paper, I want to take a deeper look at the resonances between Reinhardt’s “luminous darkness” and that of Merton, who targets a similar realm in many of his poems and meditations.  These connections have been touched upon briefly by the theologian Mark C. Taylor but have received little sustained attention from theologians, literary critics, or art historians.  The interdisciplinary nature of this conference marks a rare and useful forum in which to consider this topic and the broader questions which the relationship between Reinhardt and Merton introduces, from the hermeneutic challenges posed by painting and poetry, to connections between Christian mysticism and Sufism and Zen Buddhism, which exerted a powerful pull on both men.



Carolyn Rosen (University of London)


Poetic Interpretation of the Bible:

The Voice of God in Racine’s ‘Esther ‘and ‘Athalie’

This paper, part of a larger project on the body and the senses in Jean Racine’s theatre, will address his play Esther (1689) as a unique meeting point for both word made flesh and flesh made word.  I will examine Racine’s play as poetry in its own right, as he understood the term from his reading of Aristotle.  I will explore how Racine adapts his Esther from the Bible, emphasizing her embodied experience of being in the world.  To do this, I will use modern phenomenological writing on perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as well as theories of the female body by Luce Irigaray and Shoshana Felman.  Together, these reflections on the body and the senses will help articulate Racine’s project in a way that brings fresh insight to the interplay between divine material and its earthly expression and embodiment.

Racine’s Esther represents a marked departure from the subject matter of his earlier Greek, Roman and historical plays.  Yet Racine continues in the Classical mode, using a chorus, solo voice and music to complement the spoken word.  He utilizes these devices of ancient Greek theatre to provide a further sense of embodiment.  The chorus serves as a musical and lyrical incarnation of the people Israel.  I will show that Racine translates the story of Esther into poetry performed onstage as a powerful instance of the word made flesh through the Israelites and the figure of Esther, in a way that brings new focus to the female Jewish body. 



Joanna Rzepa (University of Warwick)

‘The Wounded Word’: Modernist Poetics of Incarnation

In his phenomenological account of prayer, Jean-Louis Chrétien describes it as ‘the religious phenomenon par excellence, ’ consisting in a speech act which is both agonic and transforming in its nature. Chrétien refers to prayer as ‘the wounded word’ because in prayer speech undergoes the ‘ordeal of transcendence’ in which ‘an other is silently introduced into my dialogue with myself, radically transforming and breaking it.’ The Word takes flesh in prayerful speech, transforming the speaker’s self-sufficiency into self-overcoming kenotic openness. It is Chrétien’s contention that by virtue of its nature prayer cannot be reduced to the language of theological propositions.

  Thinking along the lines set by Chrétien, I will discuss the manner in which poetic imagination enables one to express this experiential and transformative nature of prayer. More specifically, I will examine the extent to which the modernist poetics of Incarnation can be said to open up a way to a fuller understanding of the relationship between transcendence and immanence. My argument will be illustrated with chosen poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, and Józef Wittlin. With reference to the theological debates of the early twentieth century, I will elaborate on how Rilke, Eliot and Wittlin poetically explore various dimensions of the meaning of the Incarnation.



Bernard Sawicki (Ateneo Sant’ Anselmo)

The Dogmatic Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451) of Two Natures in the Person of Jesus Christ as a Criterion of the Incarnational Character of Poetry

Even though the idea of a connection between theology and literature is inspiring and important, it is threatened by many misunderstandings and over-simple generalizations. The idea of Incarnation is one of the most intriguing crossroads between theology and literature. The basic indicator of the manner in which this link should be understood was provided in a statement of the Council of Chalcedon (451). This statement seems to have far going formal and metaphysical consequences. They can be applied to all realities in which two different orders meet and transcend each other. This is the case with poetry. Quite often, coming from a normal, textual order, it aspires to express something more. Is this not a structure of what we might call “word made flesh/ flesh made word”? The awareness and knowledge of these two orders – in line with the formula of Chalcedon – can be helpful in determining more precisely the mode of their coexistence. This conjunction is the most exciting and theologically pregnant vein of all true and spiritually ponderable poetry.



Jakub Skurtys (University of Wroclaw)

“My body is in constant journey.” Corporal Practices and the Endless Poem in Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s Poetry

In my paper I aim to analyze the problem of primacy of the somatic experience in Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki's poems. I also try to show how body and it's physical phenomenon impacts on this author's poetic imagination. It’s not a coincidence that the recently published selection of Dycki’s poems – edited by Jacek Gutorow, one of the most influential Polish literary critics – is called “The real and the unreal become one body” (Rzeczywiste i nierzeczywiste staje się jednym ciałem). By this title Gutorow overstated important intuitions about (post)theological and (post)traumatic aspects of somatic experience in this poetry.

On the one hand one can say that Tkaczyszyn-Dycki is simply creating one great poem, all the time re-writing or repeating the same sentences. In that point of view it may seem that he's trying to inscribe himself into the text, to sign his poetic body as a true corpus (in the meaning explored by Jean-Luc Nancy). On the other hand "body" marks the spheres of everyday life, identity (when the name changes into a benchmark) and all the "dirty" experiences - from mother's illness and the death of Dycki's friend Leszek to homoerotic desire and homelessness. Body serves also as a medium between the past (its physical presence) and the present, changing poet's existence into some kind of schizophrenic testimony.

I aim to read Dycki’s poetic body in two meanings - as a figure of existence and as a corporal aspect of language. Comparing Adam Dziadek's idea of "somatic poetics" (which combine theories by H. Meschonnic and J. Kristeva's with traditional poetics) to Paul Connerton's idea of "embodiment practices", I will try to show body as a place of encounter and a chance to open the poem. 


Joanna Soćko (University of Silesia)

Divine Eloquence. R.S. Thomas’ Poetic Infiltration of Religious Language

R.S. Thomas was both a poet and a clergyman and he made the peculiar and evidently dubious  communication  between a human being and God one of the main themes of his poems. Simultaneously, his poetry became an experimental field in which he tried to work out the possible communicative ways that would enable influence of the Divine to occur. An important aspect of this “poetic infiltration” is Thomas’ preoccupation with materiality. In his poetry the religious language is depicted as a product of a man: “the furniture”, “clothing”; it becomes an item that is deprived of life and that covers life - the only inevitable evidence of God’s presence. Thus, the interaction with God requires deconstruction of this language, which Thomas does remaining in the framework of materiality: he relates to the micro scale of matter (eg. frequencies, molecules, radiation) and to phenomena whose ontological status is unclear (eg. echoes, shadows, glitters) in order to examine the sphere of Divine expression that, by exceeding language, brings it to life. The main purpose of my paper is, on the one hand, to show how R.S. Thomas delegitimizes the language of liturgy and prayer and, on the other hand, how he constructs the poetic language that reaches beyond the logic of grammar in order to touch the domain of the Divine. With the help of phenomenology of perception I analyze Thomas’ poetic strategies that aim at materializing the presence of the Divine.



Magdalena Stola (University of Gdansk) 

Material and Transcendent Aspects of Oskar Miłosz’s Concept of Poetry

  This French poet, born in Lithuania at the end of the nineteenth century, was the author of poems, biblical dramas, narrative poems, political writings and one novel. In 1914 he experienced a mystical vision, which he described in mystical treatises written in the 1920s. Poetry was for Oskar Miłosz the ‘sacred art of words’ and a ‘passionate pursuit of reality’. He was convinced of the sacred source of true poetry and cherished Dante, Byron, Goethe and Holderlin as the chosen ones who possessed sacred knowledge and expressed the mysterious and hidden longings of the common people. Based on Swedenborg’s reflection, Oskar Miłosz created the notion of meta-aesthetics, which meant the divine and sacred source of poetic metaphors. According to Miłosz, poetry has its beginnings in the very essence of universal existence and is intertwined with spiritual and physical notions. Rhythm in poetry and human blood as the expression of life itself have common sacred origins. Poetry is an outcome of inner struggles with the insufficiency of language. At the same time, it is an act of revelation of divine mystery, a glimpse of eternity, a captured process of understanding and approaching Transcendence. In the thought of Oskar Miłosz, one of the most important issues is the appreciation of the material world as the place of Incarnation. His poetry is in a way an answer to the postulated poetry of the New Order, the Art which will combine religion and science.



Anna Marta Szczepan-Wojnarska (Cardinal Wyszynski University)

“Have the words to be lost

To be as soul regained again?”

Habitus of Jerzy Liebert’s Poetry – Onthology of a Poet

This quote comes from the poem “The Hunter” by the Polish poet Jerzy Liebert (1904-1931) a member of the “Skamander” – the most influential group of poets in Poland between two World Wars however Liebert maintained his independence and his poems are regarded as the best Polish poetry referring to transcendence and religion.

The spectacular feature of Liebert’s poetry was an idea of poetic ‘habitus’ which has its origin in Jacques Maritain’s philosophy of personalism: being a Christian and being a poet multiply the difficulties of being in general. Liebert does not pretend to be truly Roman Catholic by explaining dogmatic theology in his poems. His concern is with his individual relation between spiritual life and writings. The poet asks more questions than he gives answers by creating situations of high tension between the “I” and the unrecognized Being. For Liebert the experience of transcendence and of poetry begins with a recognition of his own limits, of the limits of language and culture therefore the modern experience of transcendence seeks for unique words for one’s unrepeatable experience with no guarantees of being understood or translated as on earth as in heaven. Body, soul, words and breath, sins and hopes are his, are him - who terminally ill decides to continue the quest for the sense of language, speech, words, an artistic form as a magician casting a spell on spring in “Sorcery” as a carpenter leaving “Bitter Turnings” and as a miserable singer whispering “Firtree Lullaby”.



Monika Szuba (University of Gdańsk)

“The poem’s muscle, blood and lymph”: David Constantine’s Poetic Bodies

  David Constantine’s poems are peopled by wandering ghosts, his major concern being the spheres between the material and the immaterial world. His poetry celebrates quotidian matters, yet at the same time it stresses the elusiveness of experience: the discreet seeing into the heart of life, looking into the essence of things. Exteriority seeping to the inside, connecting blood and tissue, is a frequent theme, as is fluidity and fluctuality, which remain the predominant feature of many poems. Offering a reflection on the embodied human existence, this poetry creates links between spirit and flesh: the duality of existence is a recurrent motif, and some of Constantine’s main preoccupations include such dichotomies as spirituality and sensuality, corporeality and metaphysics, dream and reality. The states in-between prevail, suggesting not a split existence, a fissure, but rather a fluid, permeating penetration of spheres, like the anima vagula or transcendent beings inhabiting so many of Constantine’s poems.

The article aims to examine how the material and the immaterial worlds interpenetrate in Constantine’s poetry, combining the corporeal with the incorporeal. Additionally, it will explore the poet’s mental and spiritual habitat, his ports and moorings, and the spaces in between. Finally, based on the analysis of selected poems, I would like to focus on numerous rifts in the fabric of the world, crossings, borders, and boundaries, as well as on the poet’s recurrent preoccupation with interiority and exteriority.



Miguel Santos-Vieira (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

“Between Eternities”:

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Pindar’s Being in the Word

 Considered one of Portugal’s most important 20th century poets, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919-2004) (Sophia as she is commonly known in Portugal) has won numerous literary prizes and is widely translated. Prophet of a mystical union between Man and Nature, lover of the Sea and the Ancient Greek Myths, defender of truth and dignity, Sophia’s poetry was the synthesis of a life-long fascination with Hellenic culture and Christian humanism. The act of poetry and the act of living are, to her, inseparable. She defines poetry as “an art of being” that “does not require my time and labour. It does not ask me to have science, or aesthetics or theories. Instead it demands the entireness of my being, a consciousness running deeper than my intellect.” A poetry which explicitly calls forth the essential identity of Word and Being embodies the earliest and most original metaphysical insights of Western Philosophy: being and logos.

 In this paper I explore Sophia’s understanding of the poetic word as the basis for an appeal to Pindar’s understanding of ‘anthropos’ in the 8th Pythian Ode. This paper shows how the transition from Word to Flesh is developed out of the openings provided by Pindar’s description of ‘anthropos’ so that the relationship between Word and Man comes to be constituted as a possibility that reasserts the fundamental orientation of the whole of humanity towards the divine. This understanding makes possible the genuine asking of: from 'whence' does it come the being that unfolds the Word? What licenses the intriguing shift from Word to Flesh, that is to say how do we move from the singularity of the Word in 'nous' (openness of understanding) into the flesh, the manifold of humanity. I will argue that Sophia and Pindar both see the possibility of the Word as arising out of the question of not ‘what is’ or ‘should be’, but the unsaid, the 'how' that reasserts the fundamental orientation towards the future that unfolds from out of the being of beings. Can we gain a ground for reflection upon our own condition? Where do we stand, and who are we in the word? Can we respond to the challenge?



Anna Walczuk (Jagiellonian University)

Elizabeth Jennings and the Mysticism of  Words

  Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most interesting English Christian poets of the twentieth century. Her poetry is deeply rooted in her religious experience and noticeably marked by her special reverence for language as the medium which stems from Logos – the Word of God. For Jennings poetry has a revelatory quality; it reaches beyond itself and touches upon the transcendent. The paper proposes to look upon Elizabeth Jennings’ poetry from the vantage point which she herself posits, namely that of the close affinity between poetry and mysticism, both of which are involved in entering into the most intimate contact with the core of reality, or with God; and both  provide a short cut to truth which is the artist’s primary objective. Jennings’ exploration of the similarity between the poet and the mystic leads her to a reconsideration of poetic language and imagination which get redeemed when they are placed within the frames of mystical experience and viewed in the light of the Incarnation. In such perspective poetic language acquires a cognitive value as it becomes a powerful instrument to attain truth. Likewise imagination, far from sustaining illusions, gives the taste of reality.  The Incarnation (i.e. Word made Flesh), which lies at the centre of Western mysticism, plays a major role in Elizabeth Jennings’ poetic creed for it  constitutes the foundation of what she sees as the sacramental nature of the words of poetry and its images. 



Jean Ward (University of Gdańsk)

Incarnation and the Feminine in David Jones’s In Parenthesis

The world of the trenches that David Jones himself knew and that he depicts with such power In Parenthesis is par excellence a man’s world, from which women appear to be entirely absent. Jones renders it in poetic prose or prose poetry whose beauty is the appalling beauty of the Stations of the Cross, in which the central figure is a man: Christ. The common soldier (as also frequently in Wilfred Owen’s poetry) is identified, following the visual hint offered by the original frontispiece and tailpiece, with the Crucified, whose torn body is the Good Friday consequence of the Incarnation. 

But Christ cannot come into the world without the mediation of a woman, and in Christian tradition, it is this woman who also stands at the foot of the Cross. In In Parenthesis, she is the “Mother of Christ under the tree” to whom the dying soldier cries out; and in the tenderness of much of the narration, it may be a woman’s voice that is heard, although no “scripting” makes this obvious. This paper attempts to expose the presence of the hidden feminine, culminating in the figure of Mary, in Jones’s World War I “writing”. Without the feminine, incarnation cannot take place; and without it, too, the author’s metaphor of the war as an (illusory) bracket reflecting the whole nature of “our curious type of existence” in the world would have no meaning. 



Jadwiga Węgrodzka (University of Gdansk, Koszalin University of Technology)

The Child’s Body and Voice in Isaac Watts’s Divine Songs for Children

Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children (known as Divine Songs for Children) was published in 1715 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), whose hymns are still used in church services. Watts’s book belonged to a concerted attempt to inculcate early piety and morality in children through pleasant reading attuned to their capabilities. His poems continued to be used for the next two hundred years, which is testified in numerous references in, eg. Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll or E. Nesbit. In Watts’s poems the child’s experiences – in both the everyday and transcendental spheres – are constructed in entirely concrete and embodied ways. I intend to examine how the songs constitute their child protagonist through synecdochic employment of body parts such as hands, eyes, lips, tongue, or feet. The poems seem to assume that the child’s achievement of the proper behaviour requires the control over potentially unruly body parts and discipline in making them perform for the glory of God. The regular accentual-syllabic verse and strict rhyme patterns appear to participate in establishing the sense of control and discipline which thus characterizes the voice of the child, who is the assumed speaker in most of the poems.



Krystyna Wierzbicka-Trwoga (Warsaw University)

The Word of God Woven into the Word of Man. The Logos-Idea in the Poetry of George Herbert and Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski

The major thesis of the paper, based on my PhD dissertation (completed 2010), states that an idea of divinely inspired poetry existed in seventeenth-century Europe, called “sacred poetry”, which was intended to lay the reader open to transcendence in the act of reading. This was made possible through the theological idea of Logos, the Divine Word supposed to be operating on various levels in poetry. In the paper I analyse the reflections of this idea in George Herbert’s The Temple and Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski’s Teomuza, Theomuse and Poezje Postu Świętego, Poems of Lent. Both poets never met nor read each other’s works, and yet they struggle with the same main problem: how can secular words of poetry express holiness? The answer they give is similar. Sinful words of man have to be purged – washed in the holy Word of God. The Word understood as the word written by the Spirit on the heart of man (St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 3,3), Christ-the-Word and the Word of the Bible is carefully woven into their poetry in order to influence the reader, who is expected to undergo the same purgation as human words, to be illuminated by them and brought to love of God. The source of this idea is mysticism with the threefold way towards a union with God: purgation, illumination and union through love. But the notion of poetry as a mystical agency is justified only by a cooperation of the human word with the Divine Word, the Logos.



Kathryn Anne Wills (Warwick University)

The Paradoxes of Bonnefoy

Yves Bonnefoy directly addresses the problem faced by post-war poets: how to write about the spiritual without invoking a transcendent escape route, which may have allowed real human beings to suffer in war. Influenced by theologian Lev Shestov, he eschewed abstraction, describing what it brought to poetry as a “mauvaise présence”, and embraced the concrete. He also rejected the nascent Surrealist Movement because of its passivity; he followed Shestov, emphasizing the resurrection and the empowering nature of authentic desire.

Unlike Yeats, Bonnefoy rejects a distancing from the natural world’s physicality, which he calls “excarnation”: the abstraction of a transcendence which seeks to remove us from “présence”. He tries to reveal that it is only in our own acceptance of the depredations of mortality that we gain life – the immanence inherent in impersonal natural materials. However, it may be that the incarnational spirituality he craves is undercut by this impersonality. The essence of Christian “presence” is a particular personal revelation, and divine immanence is both beauty and energy, whereas Bonnefoy locates “presence” in impersonal being – a stone, a leaf.

In this paper I will ask how Bonnefoy’s apparent bleakness may be a source of hope. Bonnefoy sometimes seeks the imperfect quite deliberately, suggesting the self’s struggle at points of threshold, seeking self-mastery in order to move beyond image and beyond self, in a Zen-like process, towards pure being. I will consider whether this is a true via negativa or an alternative wholly passive “sacred”?



Olga  Włodarczyk (Warsaw University)

The Embodied “I”, the Suffering “I” in the Poetry of G. M. Hopkins

Many critics writing about the poetry of G. M. Hopkins stress its sacramental and incarnational character. When the poet writes about pain, for instance, he does not give us an account of a transcendental phenomenon that is felt in the body, but rather strives to articulate embodied experience: pain nailed to the cross of the body  joins with and participates in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, epitomized in the concluding image of “The Windhover”, “and gash gold vermillion”.

In my paper I will turn to the post-phenomenological philosophy of M. Henry and J.-L. Marion to look at the role of flesh in the perception of the world as “charged with the grandeur of God”, both in “The Windhover” and in “God’s Grandeur”. I will also analyse the creation of the lyrical “I” in these poems as a search for the “hidden I”, which was a central point in Hopkins’s philosophy, and as a response to “brute nature”, which is described by Hans Urs von Balthasar as filled with ever-present Incarnation and Redemption. One of the aspects of this response is the language, or rather, the voice of the lyrical “I”, which may be taken to be the voice of the poet.



Kwiryna Ziemba (University of Gdansk)

Juliusz Słowacki: Poet of Flesh and Spirit

The late work of the great Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) has met with an amibivalent reception. In the last decade of his life, his poetry came to be pervaded by a syncretic religious vision that some literary historians describe as mystical and prophetic, while others brand the poet a heretic or a madman. Słowacki’s religious outlook grew out of Catholicism, but was also influenced by post-Enlightenment criticism of religion and by a variety of spiritual impulses, some of them far from orthodox Christianity. Although its centre is Christ and the movement of being towards the new Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, Słowacki also assumes reincarnation. In his religious myth, the Spirit eternally present in God takes on a bodily form and becomes the creator of the visible world and of history, understood as the drive of bodies towards  transforming destruction. This myth finds expression in a virtuoso, fragmentary poetic; for Słowacki considers poetry to be the handmaid of the word understood in religious terms: the Logos. In his vision, the suffering of flesh  leads to its spiritualisation, and the convulsions of history are the Spirit in travail. Słowacki’s poetry will be viewed against the background of such figures as Blake, Lamennais and Hegel, who strove to  renew the religious traditions of Europe in the face of Enlightenment criticism and the processes of modernisation and democratisation. An analysis of selected fragments of his poetry will reveal in more detail its preoccupation with the problem of flesh that is subordinated to spirit, but also conditions the development of spirit, and will consider the poetic employed by the artist to present destruction and death.



Sebastian Zmysłowski (University of Gdansk)

Word Made Flesh:

The Mystery of the Incarnation in Roman Brandstaetter’s Marian Poetry

Our limited senses disregard vast amounts of information from the Universe surrounding us: our eyes are able to see waves of certain length only; our ears can detect only sounds of certain frequency; our bodies function in what we perceive to be three dimensional space.

How are we then to understand the very concept of the Incarnation: the process through which the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the extratemporal and extraspatial Entity, entered time and space?  This focal mystery of the Christian faith, the mystery by which God’s salvific Word became incarnate in the Virgin Mary’s womb has never ceased to puzzle not only theologians and philosophers, but poets, too.

Roman Brandstaetter, one of the greatest Polish Catholic poets of the 20th century, saw poetry as a means of overcoming our sensory limitations and aiding our comprehension of the mysteries of the Christian faith. He considered poetry to be a mystery in itself, a mystery through which we can immerse ourselves in another reality and cross the border of temporal and spatial limitations. This paper will consider how Brandstaetter’s understanding of poetry as a way of “seeing the things invisible”, even a means of “communion: opening begging lips to receive God”, is revealed in his “Hymn to the Black Madonna” and other Marian poems.

Ostatnio modyfikowane: 25.09.2013

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