Christian Wiman / Finding Home Through Exiles' Eyes
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"To be a poet is to be an exile," says poet Christian Wiman. He echoes the most influential writer on his early life and work, Simone Weil, who wrote in her Gravity & Grace: "We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place." Wiman spent most of the 2020 leg of the pandemic curating a story about home using 100 poems, seamed with prose from some of the wisest denizens of our species to narrate the tale. He joins Evan Rosa to read some of the poetry from the collection, talk about the connection between poetry and faith, and continue to examine the meaning of home through exiles' eyes. 

This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.

Show Notes

  • Home: 100 Poems
  • Joseph Brodsky, exile from Russa
  • Defining "Home"
  • Mahmoud Darwish, "I Belong There"
  • "I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them, a single word: home."
  • Josef Pieper on tautology
  • Poetry as a way of inhabiting rather than defining
  • The epigraph from He Held Radical Light: "The world does not need to come from a god. For better or worse, the world is here. But it does need to go to one (where is he?). And that is why the poet exists." (Juan Ramon Jimenez)
  • Why does the poet exist?
  • "Existence is not existence until it's more than existence."
  • Jack Gilbert, "Singing in My Difficult Mountains"
  • "My fine house that love is."
  • "To be a poet is to be an exile."
  • Simone Weil: "We must be rooted in the absence of a place." (Gravity & Grace)
  • A traveling place
  • Modern humanity in exile, a secular notion
  • Weil, The Need for Roots
  • "I think all poets though, experience the feeling of displacement that comes with perception."
  • W.B. Yeats on Maude Young, "I might have thrown poor words away and attempted to live."
  • "Life is the thing. Words are always a kind of displacement."
  • Wendell Berry's Sabbath: "There is a day when the road neither comes nor goes, and the way is not a way, but a place."
  • Frantically nomadic
  • Restlessness and the pull toward security
  • Rooted in relationships
  • "In my 20s, Simone Weil was the most important writer in my life. ... But now in my fifties, I feel a little differently. I still love Simone Weil, but I appreciate very much the work that someone like Wendell Berry has done to secure an existence against all the odds, secure a kind of existence in one place, and make it out of language as well."
  • Vincent Van Gogh and Gaston Bachelard
  • Stabilizing and Destabilizing
  • Van Gogh: Life is round
  • Bachelard: Dwelling in images and words
  • Some real element of the past, brought into the present with metaphysical power: "I think there's some real element of the past of memory, that is made alive and volatile and even salvific, and it's not an image of youth. It is the actual thing being brought into the present."
  • He Held Radical Light: seeking, through poetry, "those moments of mysterious intrusion, that feeling of collusion with eternity, of life and language riled to the one wild charge.”
  • Poetry: the main way faith sustains Wiman
  • "All poets are Jews." (Maria Sativa)
  • "All poets are believers." (Christian Wiman)
  • Something in poetry itself to further existence
  • "If you do not believe in poetry, you cannot write it." (Wallace Stevens)
  • Glory to God for dappled things
  • The role of mystery in poetry and faith
  • Following the music of poetry in a physical, physiological, improvisational way
  • Wendell Berry on the Kingdom of God: "We contain that which contains us."
  • Home in painful division in Wendell Berry
  • Carson McCullers: Improvisation
  • Braithwaite, "Bass"
  • How is poetry in conversation with perplexity?
  • James Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues" (Christian Wiman's "favorite short story in the world")
  • "Dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing an order on it."
  • Deep consolation in poetry
  • Responding to the music of poetry
  • Read poetry out loud
  • Can you write good poetry without suffering much?
  • George MacKay Brown, "Old Fisherman with Guitar"
  • What is a life worth living? Creating and loving
  • The pursuit of God is wrapped up with creating art and being freed to love.
  • The impact of Christian Wiman's "Prayer"

About Christian Wiman

Poet Christian Wiman is Professor of the Practice of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School. He’s the author of several books of poetry, including Every Riven ThingHammer is the Prayer, and his most recent, Survival Is a Style. His memoirs include the bracing and beautiful My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer and He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art. He edited an anthology of 100 poems on Joy a few years ago, and just released Home: 100 Poems this month.

Introduction (Evan Rosa)

"To be a poet is to be an exile," says Christian Wiman, a poet and Professor of the Practice of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School. Wiman knows this personally. When he was younger than now, he moved 40 times over a 15 year period. He would come early to work as Editor of Poetry Magazine to write his own, spilling line after line onto page from the driver seat of his car (he wrote my favorite poem of his that way he tells me). And the writer that defined him then was Simone Weil, who wrote in her Gravity and Grace, "We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place."

And I wonder, if all poets are exiles, does that make us all poets? The generalized unease and anxiety that comes with being human often leaves us longing for a home. And each of us imagine a particular place, a perspective, a people, when we think of home. But it's always longing, isn't it. Especially in light of the fact that "we are home to each other"—that home is ultimately a relational reality built and maintained and indwelled with people—if that's true then no wonder we long for home all the more, because we long to be accepted, received, and loved all the more.

A recent theme of the podcast has been exile and migration. War correspondent Janine Di Giovanni offered perspective on the vanishing Christian population in the middle east; biblical scholar Francisco Lozada helped us view faith through the eyes of the immigrants hopeful sojourn. Today, that continues, even as we consider the very meaning of home by way of poetry.

Christian Wiman spent most of the 2020 leg of the pandemic curating a story about home using 100 poems, using with prose from some of the wisest denizens of our species to narrate the tale. The book came out this month, and you can listen to Miroslav Volf and Christian Wiman discuss the project on episode 36 of the podcast.

I asked Chris to come back on the show to read more of the poems he selected, talk about the connection between poetry and faith, and continue to examine the meaning of home through exiles' eyes. You might think that's exactly the wrong way to wonder about home. But Odysseus would tell you different as he fights his way back to Ithaca. Moses would tell you different as he leads the Jews through the wilderness. Jesus would tell you different as he goes to prepare a place for you.

And what other option do we have as wandering wonderers anyway—always longing for home, always praying for, in Christian Wiman's words, "those moments of mysterious intrusion, that feeling of collusion with eternity, of life and language riled to the one wild charge.”

Thanks for listening, and enjoy.

Production Notes

  • This podcast featured poet Christian Wiman
  • Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
  • Hosted by Evan Rosa
  • Production Assistance by Martin Chan, Nathan Jowers, Natalie Lam, and Logan Ledman
  • A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
  • Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
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