In his introduction to the Everyman’s edition of the poetry of W. B. Yeats, John Kelly recounts that a few days before his death Yeats wrote that “man can embody truth but he can not know it”. As a firm believer in the clear, personal and propositional revelation of God to us through the person of Jesus Christ and the infallible writings of scripture we heartily disagree with the statement the we “can not know truth”. In fact we as Christian believers can and do humbly and thankfully find, learn and grow in truth through God’s revelation to us in the person and work of Christ and through the message of the Bible.
But the first part of that statement does clearly challenge us as Christian believers. We are “experts” in and have personally embraced the historical-grammatical and logical revelation of truth found in the writings of Scripture. But in what way can we as believers “embody” truth so that others can find it and so that we can be personally and experientially reassured of its vitality, validity and applicability in our personal lives and cultural milieu.
While we are not trying to imply that the poetry of W. B. Yeats is a normative measure for the exploration of an artistic epistemology, it can serve as a secular insight into a point of connection between secular culture (our society) and regenerated culture (the church). Enter the poem Coole Park and Ballylee, 1931. This poem serves as an eloquent reminder that romantic experience evidences the reality of the soul in contrast to a materialist or logical positivist view of (read Darwinian in the context of Yeats’ life and times) existence.
In writing on the romantic experience of nature on one’s spirit he writes,
Under my window ledge the waters race, otters below and moor hens on the top, Run for a mile undimmed in heaven’s face then darkening through ‘dark’ Raftery’s ‘cellar’ drop, Run underground, rise in a rocky place in Coole demesne, and there to finish up spread to a lake and drop into a hole. What’s water but the generated soul?
Later in the same poem seeming to comment on his culture’s loss of this romanticism he writes,
We were the last romantics-chose for theme traditional sanctity and loveliness; Whatever’s written in what poet’s name the book of the people; whatever most can bless the mind of man or elevate a rhyme; But all is changed, that high horse riderless, though mounted in that saddle Homer rode where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.
How can we the church, a regenerated and renewed culture, “ride where the swan drifts” and reach into the “darkening flood”. Answer…in our artistic expression of the faith within us. Christian musician soar with your instrument and voice, Christian artist paint the landscape, Christian writer “elevate a rhyme”. Our right brains are no less redeemed than our left brains. The romantic “alogical” (NOT illogical) expression of the faith within us evidences it’s truth no less than its logical expression. So sing, play, paint and write. This swan will reach powerfully into the darkening flood.