Christians have for hundreds of years expressed their faith through poetry. Beginning with the Bible, those who could have demonstrated their devotion to their faith with verse. However, most often, Christian poems have appeared as Christian lyrics set to song.
Some of the earliest and best known Christian poems were the Psalms of David. While written before the time of Christ, and therefore Christianity, the Psalms of David have nonetheless been incorporated into the Christian literature. Written as lyrics to be set to music, as much early poetry was, David’s Psalms are by turns exaltations to God, or Yahweh, and descriptions of his struggles with living in faith while confronted by non-believers.
While the 23rd Psalm is undoubtedly the best-known of the Psalms, a Psalm that truly captures the full range of David’s troubled faith and ultimate rejoicing in his faith is the 13th Psalm:
Christian poetry flourished after the time of David, but was never as near to the Psalms as the poetry of William Blake (1757-1827). A talented engraver as well as a poet, Blake’s series of copperplate engravings commissioned to illustrate the Book of Job in an edition of the Old Testament brought him more success during his lifetime than his Christian poetry.
While his engravings were accomplished, it is Blake’s poetry that has sustained his reputation through the years, and none are more cherished than his Christian poems. Although misunderstood in his time as sacrilegious, Blake’s views on Christianity have come to be understood as that of a man who saw the humanity in the divine, and the divine in humanity.
One of the most beloved of Blake’s Christian poems, known and revered by children and adults alike, is “The Lamb:”
Like David’s Psalms, Blake’s “Little Lamb” has been set to music, continuing a tradition of setting Christian poems to song.
Both David’s Psalms and some of Blake’s poetry have been in the form that we now most commonly recognize Christian poetry – as songs. Songs such as “Amazing Grace” are not only affirmations of faith, but Christian poems that can be a joyful noise.