Exclusive: Christian Wiman Discusses Faith as He Leaves World's Top Poetry Magazine
Your faith does not come across as breezy in your essays, which you occasionally grace with levity. For example: "If I ever sound like a preacher in these passages, it's only because I have a hornet's nest of voluble and conflicting parishioners inside of me." Does your faith ever express itself as peace?
Rarely, which I see as a weakness. I do feel that some people may be called to unbelief—or what looks like unbelief—in order that faith may take new forms. Emily Dickinson is a good example of this, or Albert Camus. But I also believe that God requires every last cell of yourself to bow down. Or perhaps that verb, requires, is wrong, or that it's God doing the requiring: It's more like your nature requires, in order to be your nature, that every last cell of yourself bow down. There is still some satanic pride in me, for which I pay a high price.
And yet, I have certainly experienced peace in poems that in their sheer givenness seemed to reveal something of God to me. I have written poems that begin in great anguish and explode into joy. As psychically difficult as the poems may have been to write, certainly I have felt peace and presence in their wake.
There are other moments, too, which are simply moments of life. Simply! I think of the poet Paul Eluard: "There is another world, but it is in this one." I have 3-year-old twin daughters. It would be disingenuous in the extreme for me to pretend that they don't at times drive all thought of God out of my head and make me want to write a series of sonnets in praise of celibacy, but it would be equally insane for me not to acknowledge that they are the source of my greatest happiness. Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov, defines hell as "the inability to love." I have known that hell, and I should probably spend my remaining days thanking God that I am free of it.