Manoah Bodman

In 1817, Manoah Bodman published An Oration on Death, “an account of his religious experiences interspersed with occasional poems.” One of these poems is included in the Library of America collection of 19th century American poetry (from which the above quote). It is a simple piece, not without charm, but ultimately not a poem I am likely to remember. Here is the text of the poem:

What rich profusion here,
Is scatter’d all abroad,
To make us love and fear,
Obey and worship God.
……And sound his praise,
………Through every clime,
……In constant lays,
………Till end of time.

The huge leviathan,
The oyster and the eel,
The lion and the lamb,
Each in their nature feel.
……And go abroad,
………In quest of food,
……Depend on God,
………For every good.

These shining crumbs of clay,
With yellow, green and gold,
March on their lucid way,
And day in night unfold.
……And shine so bright,
………And please themselves,
……And fill’d with light,
………They quit their cells.

Is dull conformity
Confin’d to spirits alone,
Who all so clearly see
The Great, the Three in One?
……Forbid it sense,
………It cannot be:
……In heaven’s immense,
………They different see.

My main difficulty is that is didactic: there is a message it wants to send, and it is purely accidental that this message happened to be expressed in rhyme and meter. Take, for instance, the second stanza, in which Bodman presents the “rich profusion” of the animal world. Why choose just those animals as representatives? The leviathan, the lion, and the lamb are understandable (though cliché) choices, but what significance have the oyster and the eel (besides rhyming with “feel”)? And why is the action they are shown to undertake searching for food? Indeed, given the didactic aim of the piece, why not highlight the diversity of their actions, rather than their sameness? The stanza makes the point it needs to make, but it lacks the necessity that characterizes the best poetry. It could have been quite different and made the point equally well. The specific character it has seems arbitrary.

I think this is the general weakness of the poem. I do not need to belabor it. I await still a poem from this volume that captures me.


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