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Christian Wiman's Remarkable Essay in The American Scholar

Back in April, we blogged about Christian Wiman, a member of the Washington and Lee Class of 1988, for two pieces of news. He had just won a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he had sat for an interview with journalist Bill Moyers (father of Cope Moyers, W&L Class of 1981) about his diagnosis with Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, an incurable cancer of the blood. He’s written about the disease before, and now he has published another searing and beautiful essay: “Mortify Our Wolves,” in the Autumn 2012 issue of The American Scholar.

Christian fills the essay with reflections on parenthood, faith, marriage, pain, art, science, poetry—the list is long. We’ll go with two samples.

Here is Christian on grace: “Part of the mystery of grace is the way it operates not only as present joy and future hope, but also retroactively, in a way: the past is suffused with a presence that, at the time, you could only feel as the most implacable absence.”

And on poetry: “Poetry has its uses for despair. It can carve a shape in which a pain can seem to be; it can give one’s loss a form and dimension so that it might be loss and not simply a hopeless haunting. It can do these things for one person, or it can do them for an entire culture. But poetry is for psychological, spiritual, or emotional pain. For physical pain it is, like everything but drugs, useless.”

It is tempting to quote one elegant passage after another, but really, the best thing to do is to clear the decks for a while and immerse yourself in “Mortify Our Wolves.”

The editor of Poetry magazine, Christian has published six books. Next spring, he will add a seventh to that list: “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.”

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