Soul-Shaping Poetry: 2 Books for Teens and Adults

Soul-Shaping Poetry

Have you ever stopped to think about how much poetry has shaped the Christian soul? Poetry is an intrinsic part of our worship services, whether through a responsive reading of a Psalm or the “singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” Paul describes.

Poetry occurs throughout Scripture, most notably in the Psalms, but it is not limited to the Psalms. Miriam and Moses pour forth poetry at the Red Sea, Mary praises the Lord in the Magnificat, Song of Solomon is a long love poem, Job is replete with poetry, and even the epistles contain poetry and hymns (most notably, Philippians 2).

Throughout history, Christians have been pouring forth laments, praise, anguish, joy, and more to the Lord through poetry. The two collections below highlight this robust tradition of soul-shaping poetry as it has occurred since the time of Christ.

*The Soul in Paraphrase by Leland Ryken

cover of Soul in Paraphrase for soul-shaping poetry

Ryken, a professor at Wheaton College, offers a “Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems” in this anthology of more than 90 poems. All poems are rendered in English, but there are several that have been translated from their original language (such as some early Latin hymns). Ryken unpacks each poem in a meditation that is both instructive literarily and helpful spiritually.

Readers could easily use this book as a devotional aid, but it also offers a helpful way to learn literary criticism from a renowned Christian in the field. Ryken writes in his introduction:

In order to be included in this anthology, poems needed to lend themselves to the kind of literary analysis that I conduct as a professor of literature and writer of literary criticism. If all that a poem lends itself to is mere reading as opposed to analysis and explication, it needs to be judged to be of limited substance.

~Introduction, Leland Ryken

As you may guess from that snippet, Ryken dives right in to some of the most meaty poems in Christian literary history (including some of my all-time favorites from Gerard Manly Hopkins and George Herbert). We love to talk about Truth and Story here at Redeemed Reader; this poetry anthology delivers in spades. Highly recommended. (As a bonus, if you’re considering giving this as a gift, it is a lovely hardback book with a bookmark.)

Crossway, 2018.

*A Sacrifice of Praise, edited by James H. Trott

cover of Sacrifice of Praise for soul-shaping poetry

Subtitled, “An Anthology of Christian Poetry in English from Caedmon to the Mid-Twentieth Century,” this is a large volume representing 12 centuries of English poetry. Some sources and poets are familiar names (such as Caedmon or John Donne or George Herbert). Others, particularly in the early selections, are less familiar.

Selections are organized chronologically, sub-grouped according to time period. A short commentary on the literary period precedes the poetry selections, and each poet is introduced through a short biographical paragraph. Poetry selections stand on their own, though, with no further commentary. Hymns are included as well as poems.

This volume would make a fantastic reference volume for a Christian school classroom, but it is also worth owning if your family enjoys poetry. Many teens love poetry; they would find this volume a treasure trove! It is a large paperback, much like a Norton anthology you might find in a college classroom.

Cumberland House Publishing, 2006.

*indicates a starred review, the best of the best!

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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

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