“To feel religiously is to speak with the tongues of poets…
Like the language of art, poetry, and friendship, the language of religion
is suggestive, not descriptive or definitive”
Carl Sandburg (1878–1967), the widely regarded American poet, author, Chicago journalist, and three-times Pulitzer Prize winner—twice for poetry, once defined poetry as ‘the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits’.
Intrigued, I began to search for its context. Now I didn’t discover where he actually placed the comment—in a poem, that is— but I did find where hundreds of others have quoted it. So I am prepared to accept it as a genuine Sandburg saying.
By-the-way, of poetry Sandburg also wrote nearly 40 other so-called ‘definitions’.
Some of those are:
Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.
It wasn’t until I read the comments of another poet, who also wrestled with his
‘hyacinths/biscuits’ definition, that I reckoned I began to appreciate some of the meanings attributed to it that made it attractive to many.
‘The putting together of unlike things to give us a new view of our world’.
(Joan Monahan) A ‘synthesis’ view of life.
As it happens one of my theological mentors, Bernard Meland (1899–1993), said of Sandburg’s poetry comment that it also defines life, “for life, too, is a synthesis of biscuits and hyacinths.” (Meland 1934:279)
(Meland changed the order…)
This is the intrduction to a thoughtful address by the
Rev Rex A E Hunt, MSc(Hons), GradDipCommMgt.
• Religious Naturalist • Social Ecologist • Progressive Liturgist
( further information can be found at www.rexaehuntprogressive.com
The full talk can found here.