Quite simply, Christian Wiman’s He Held Radical Light is a beautiful book, floating as it does on elegant, lyrical prose. Wiman seeks to glimpse the ways that art and faith reflect and tangle with each other, and in doing so he offers graceful meditations on the poetry of A.R. Ammons, Mary Oliver, Philip Larkin and Donald Hall, among others.
After a meeting with Seamus Heaney that is marked as much by silence as words, Wiman recalls that the poet’s work “could . . . take that inchoate edge of existence and give it actual edges. He could bring the cosmic into the commonplace. . . . He could make matter, inside the space of a poem, immortal, or make the concept of eternity, in more than one sense, matter.” After a frustrating week of trying to write poetry, Wiman grabs a copy of Don Quixote from his bookshelf, losing himself for three days in its prose and story; he then emerges to discover that the “existential key to his soul had been unlocked.” Reflecting on this moment, he shares his insights into faith and art: “It has been my experience that faith, like art, is most available when I cease to seek it, cease even to believe in it, perhaps, if by belief one means that busy attentiveness, that purposeful modern consciousness that knows its object.” Wiman reveals that faith and art give form to feelings that are incipient, and they offer us a means “whereby we can inhabit our fear and pains rather than they us, to help us live with our losses rather than being permanently and helplessly haunted by them.”
Luminous and moving, He Held Radical Light brilliantly reveals the inextricable bonds of poetry and faith, and it serves as an evocative companion to Wiman’s 2013 memoir, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.