Poetry reminds us that theology is never finished business—that there's always more than one way of saying something without being false to the truth. Theological writing tends to flatten dynamic realities. Rowan Williams, an accomplished theologian and poet, observes that poetry piles the pressure on theology—through imagery, sound, form, and figures of speech—to release wonder from the familiar. Poetry helps us penetrate the truth more deeply and embrace it more passionately. And, if "masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit," as the poet W. H. Auden wrote, then a great poem deserves our careful attention at Eastertime.
"Easter Wings" comes from The Temple (1633), a posthumous collection of poems by the 17th-century Anglican minister George Herbert. Originally published on two facing pages, the lines appeared sideways to evoke birds flying upward, wings outspread, as if to symbolize eternity. In a horizontal presentation, like the one at left, the lines evoke an hourglass figure, which connotes time. This contrast is fitting because Easter should be regarded as a kairos: an in-breaking of eternity within the flux of time, and the Greek word that Paul and other early Christians used for the coming kingdom of God.
Herbert invites us to explore the kairos of Easter through the metaphor of flight. Easter arrested our downward fall to death and began our upward flight in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each stanza contains two halves: the first marks a descent while the second marks an ascent. In the first stanza, the speaker recalls how the riches of man at Creation were squandered in the Fall, making him "most poore." In the second stanza, he ...