Some Poems That Have Nourished You

Posted on February 1st, by nicholas in contributors, creativity, ministry, poets, rumination, writing. 1 Comment

Some Poems That Have Nourished You

{Pastor, Ryan Strebeck reflects on some of the poetry that has nourished him in his life of ministry.}

I’m such a novice in the world of poetry (you don’t need me to tell you this, but conversing with a poetry community I feel obliged to announce it anyways). My poetry library could mostly be transported in a five-gallon bucket, and my understanding of forms is very limited. Thankfully, I have savvy friends who keep me supplied with enough good poetry to keep me going. Here are a few poems that have  nourished me, particularly in the life of ministry.

The Tyger by William Blake

Without the help of my then three-year-old son, I never would have learned this poem. He pulled a copy of Blake’s illustrated poems off the shelf one night and brought it to me open to this page. A month or two later (long after my son had it memorized ) I could say these lines without reading the words.

First words would stand out (sinews), then whole lines (and when thy heart began to beat), until finally the whole poem was doing its work on me. I notice, looking back, that the order of the poem contributed to the ordering of life. I doubt veteran poets are surprised by this, but I continue to marvel at how the sound and sight of the lines bring concord through their routine.

Sabbaths – 1979, IV  by Wendell Berry

One of the first poetry books I bought was  Berry’s 20 year collection of Sabbath poems, A Timbred Choir. I started reading them on Sundays during seminary, as I set all the school work aside for the day. The vast collection has shaped me considerably and proven a real ally in the practice of, as this poem puts it, keeping an “inventory of wonders and uncommercial goods.” IV stands out as my favorite so far. It chronicles the struggle to “leave labor and load” and “take up a different story.” To do so, we quickly encounter “projects, plans unfulfilled” that “waylay and snatch at [us] like briars…” There’s nothing easy about this. It takes a pilgrimage. The poem captures the Sabbath rhythms of “leave” and “let that go a while” – all of our “hopes and plans that no toil can perfect.” We then are poised to hear “a stillness longer than all time.” I’ll take all the help I can get when it comes to keeping the “rest” command; I experience it as one of the most elusive and ignored.  This poem works on me again and again.

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection  by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This one hangs on the wall by my desk. It seems to me like a poetry mountain that requires a good bit of attention and preparation to ascend.

Like a good ballad, I don’t listen to it unless I have time, plenty of time. The constant struggle to appreciate and live faithfully in a fallen, yet being-redeemed world makes this poem a good companion.

Every day we brush up against the “fading flesh” realities. In the same days we participate in the startling life of Resurrection. These lines  pilot me therefore into honest appraisal of what we see and an honest hope in what we may not.


Ryan Strebeck pastors a Methodist church in Abilene, TX, where he lives with his wife Amberly, daughter Morgan, and son Athan. He enjoys keeping his hands in the dirt and building just about anything.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanstrebeck

One Response to “Some Poems That Have Nourished You”

  1. Ken says:

    Thank you for sharing “Sabbaths – 1979″. Beautiful poem.

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