A sense of isolation pervades modern literature. W.B. Yeats, the great twentieth-century Irish poet, wrote in “The Second Coming” that “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” T.S. Eliot’s phrase, “the dissociation of sensibility,” characterized for many the separation of art and science, spirit and matter in this century.

Yet the condition of modern man is not radically different from that of Adam. When Adam fell away from God, he experienced man’s first feeling of isolation. It is not unexpected, then, to find in a Christian work such as Eugene Warren’s first book of poems, Christographia (The Cauldron Press, $3.50), the theme of Christ’s unifying power.

Warren teaches humanities at the University of Missouri-Rolla and is first a Christian and second a poet. That does not mean that he is a second-rate poet, but that his belief initiates and shapes his poetry, that being a poet, praised by the world is secondary to being a Christian who praises God. This attitude is clearly expressed in the final lines of poem 3:

and He arose

after the Sabbath’s deadtime of rest

a hole in His side

eating fish & honeycomb, casting a shadow,

rocking the boat with Real weight:

into this Light the poet’s shadow

falls, and rises,

born like worlds on the breath of the Word.

Christographia is, as the title indicates, a series of thirty-two poems that explores and depicts various images of Christ. The title is the same as that used by Edward Taylor, the Puritan poet and preacher, for his meditations and sermons on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The title is Warren’s way of identifying his roots as a poet and as a Christian. By referring to Edward Taylor, Warren indicates that for him the poet is a minister of both the mundane and the divine word. More specifically, the title tells us that Warren sees himself as a part of the American tradition of poets and of the Protestant tradition of Christians.

Warren’s vision of Christ is traditional. He concentrates on the incarnate, the crucified, and the resurrected Christ. He finds the Incarnation in the spirit that shines:

from the eye of the wolf s heart

from the mechanic’s greasy hands

from the edge of the barber’s razor

shines from the frost

on the coyote’s corpse from the clip

of the preacher’s tie.

Jonathan Edwards (a Puritan divine like Edward Taylor) called the Incarnation “a sweet conjunction, majesty and meekness joined together.” Warren aptly conveys that in his lines, “The easiness of natural/things shadows/His favor.” He depicts another aspect of the Incarnation in “A City to Come,” where we see Christ “wearing dust and sunburn/squinting at the sun” “or lifting a finger/to test the wind.” The Incarnation is an image of wholeness; it infuses and fuses the different orders of existence into one.

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The crucifixion and the resurrection are also images of wholeness. The day of Christ’s crucifixion was at once both the darkest and the brightest in Christianity. Although Jesus of Nazareth suffered and died, Christ, in that death, redeemed mankind. In Christographia Warren treats the crucifixion with simplicity and reverence. In the first poem he shows how Christ’s power shines forth from such a common, man-made object as “a china crucifix in an old woman’s cupboard.” In the second poem he uses the Lord’s Supper to symbolize the redemption brought about by Christ’s death:

this Bread carries our wounds,

& this Wine’s wet with pain

we owned (once: now we own One

Who gives us ourselves).

There are two sets of poems that show how death and rebirth are signs of wholeness in Christianity. The first set, “The Dead Christ” and “Figures for a Resurrection,” focuses on Christ at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection. Both poems stress the universal impact of these two acts. In “The Dead Christ,” “That terrible Shadow falls/down from Golgotha/like an axe, cleaving all things.” In “Figures for a Resurrection” the spirit triumphs over the flesh, and the glory of the resurrection transmutes the grief of the crucifixion.

The other set, sonnets 30 and 31, examine death and rebirth from the point of view of man. Poem 30 occurs in a modern hospital room and explores the “depictions of sorrow” that we experience when a man dies. It is a moving, yet almost matter-of-fact presentation of a death-bed scene. All the technological equipment signals the impending death; “the pastor’s nervous prayer scatters upward”; “the patient curls his tongue for a last word”; and “the gate of sorrow opens to the Lord.” This sonnet matches on a human level “The Dead Christ,” and the sonnet immediately following it, “Christ came juggling from the tomb,” is a match for “Figures for a Resurrection.” This latter sonnet with its lines, “Hey! Listen—that chuckle in the dark,/that clean blast of laughter behind”—delightfully evokes the power of Christ to overcome and transform. Not only does Christ juggle “death’s stone pages”—the monuments we erect for earthly remembrance but also our “stone dead” corpses—but he also tosses them and us higher and higher until “we fall out” of our tombs, out of our dead selves, and become, like Christ, jugglers “dancing and juggling our griefs like sizzling balls of light.”

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Light and stones are the matter of Christographia. Many of the poems imply that fallen man is a stone. “Shall these stones live?” Warren asks in number 5. In poem 6 “the spiteful rejecters” of Christ’s light “ride sealed” “in darkness under outer stones.” Yet in ancient times stones marked the limits and the foundations of cities, and the city is also a concern of Warren. Eleven of the thirty-two poems treat various views of the city. There is the modern city with its garbage-filled streets, the ancient and holy city of Jerusalem, the city of Paphos sacred to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, and the city of Ephesus, sacred to Artemis. Christians, Warren suggests, have been and are tempted by the attractions of sexual pleasure and business success.

Framed by its circle of twelve stones, the ancient city is emblematic of Christ, who is the circumference of the circle, the shape of eternity, and the center of the circle. The city is the earthly community that man forms out of love for his fellow man, and it is the shadow of the heavenly community, the spiritual place, “the urban bride of the carpenter,/Love,” the new Jerusalem of Revelation whose “Light was like a stone most precious,” “the Castle Joyous,” whose “Keeper sings/songs of Home,” the place where “out of the dust/ & stones, Abraham’s children rise,/stones of light/raising a city/unmarkt by Cain.”

That Christ can make “stones of light” testifies to his unifying and renewing powers. Light dominates Warren’s Christographia. Almost every poem speaks of the light that is Christ. There is the “swiftness of light” (1), “the light sings” (2), a “bath of light” (3), “lineaments of light” (4), “snuffed out Light” (9), “City of Light” (11), “our tongues aflame with new light” (12), “supernatural light” (13), “living light” (14), “Central Light” (15), “rumors of light” (17), “stones of light” (18), “pearls of light” (20), “constellated tongues of light” (22), “radial light” (23), “light in light” (25), “imagination’s coherent light” (29), “light pulsing the heart beat” (30), and “balls of light” (31).

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In the last poem Warren uses two quotations to indicate the ways that the Light of Life works for man. “By His light all this is lightened” and “by your light we see the light.” Those who love God above all else and who love their neighbors as themselves find in the light who is Christ an easing of their earthly burden and the way to him. They find, as Warren says in poem 29, “all things whole/in the Spirit’s harmonic flash.”

Christographia is an exceptional first book. The poems are not only erudite and complex, encompassing much of Christian history and theology, but they are also simple and sensitive. Their appearance on the page is at first a little difficult and disconcerting to the reader, but this difficulty is overcome with a careful reading of the poems aloud. One of the outstanding qualities of this book is that there is no prideful display of piety. The poems are quietly and solidly set forth. They are powerfully effective because they are written from a dedication and a love for the word and the Word.

Larry Vonalt teaches in the department of humanities at the University of Missouri-Rolla.

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