İ 2002, Creekside Press


by Cranston Stroup


And then, one day, a wistful, waiting world
Beheld a new creature, erect within his cave,
And carving lyric pictures on smoky walls,
Of mammals he had slain. God looked upon

The groping creature there as earth-born mud
Was calling out to find a soul. And while
He looked He loved him. This once-lonely God
Smiled with compassion, and gave as much of love,
Order and beauty as it could contain.
A soul was born in man. And thus did God
Create man in his image. God was glad.
No longer must He work alone to build
His kingdom here. For feebly, blindly man
Was climbing up that awful slope. And God
Was straining in the harness with His sons.

O God, invisible, we see your face;
Incomprehensible, we feel your hand.
Splendid, lovely, cruel and terrible
You sit upon the final peak of time;
Yet feel with delicate and probing touch
The very secret soul of man. The world
Remains a plain and moving evidence
Of your opposed, contrasting attributes.
So wise you are-incomprehensible-
But man must ask why good and evil live
Together in the earth and in the reach
Of that remotest star that superbly swings
Across the margin of the universe.

Yet if we think, we know the law that guides
The growth of God and man says all things change,
Cannot mutate from good to other good.
Evil, the midwife, superintends the change.
(The beetle eats the flower. Evil attends
Its death-an evil for the murdered flower,
But not the beetle. Next a linnet eats
The beetle; benefits the linnet, but
The beetle not at all. A hawk destroys
The linnet, chokes upon a bone and dies.
Thus benefiting neither. Still from off
Their moldering bodies other flowers grow.
And thus the cycle is complete. And all
The beauty that was in this way destroyed
Is not destroyed; but only dies to find
Renascence in the building, shaping mind
Of God. So thus when other beetles, flowers,
And birds are made, they are more beautiful.)

Besides this, God, the perfect artist, knows
That white is but the empty, barren sky
Without the black and shades that lie between
To ground its beauty. Man, who stands alone,
Beautiful, God's most creation... Most
He suffers ... Most he lives. And yet in all
Inflicted pain, he still must realize
That this is indispensably a part
Of change.

.........................That Shakespeare lives. With each
Small flower that dies, God suffers, too. He is
Compassionate toward every bird that falls.
He suffers most with man: but feels man's joy.
And all the beauty of the world that dies
Is born again within the heart of God.

And so we see frail little man, and God
Remake the world to nearer their desire.
And over the hand that guides the chisel stroke,
The watchful hand of God still shapes the cut,
and builds perfection out of faulty stone!

Return to Part I

"God, looking down upon the pioneer was pleased, and knew that it was very good." Part III, line 18. Trillium. Watercolor by Jeff Chapman-Crane. For a larger image, click here.

Commentary, concluded

"Art" and "beauty" are, for Cranston, more than aesthetic terms. They are moral realities connected to both truth and love. The God of this poem took the risks that made our beautiful world of interdependence possible: God allowed death for the purpose of life, evil for the purpose of good.

"God is no novice, playing timid art, / But like the master makes the roses bloom / From out a skull."

This high-risk style of creativity would be neither moral nor meaningful unless God was, at the same time, lovingly engaged with each facet of creation.

"God watches while / A blizzard sweeps across the North. He sees / A thousand sparrows fall, frozen, to earth. / Still he stops to say: "My sparrows must / Have warmer, closer feathers for next year."

At last humanity appeared...

"a new creature, erect within his cave, / And carving lyric pictures on smoky walls."

God smiled upon this creature and poured into his flesh "as much of love, order and beauty as it could contain." God now had a partner in creation. "And God was straining in the harness with His sons."

In this epic, it is beauty that unites science to faith, and joins matter to morality. Beauty creates the possibility of meaning. It is typical of Cranstonıs aesthetic that the emergence of the first flower forms a climax within this poem - as definitive as the "big bang" for the scientist or the creation of the first man and woman for the Biblicist. It is this moment that God blesses as "very good."

This is a profoundly optimistic poem, portraying a loving God who tends a beautiful earth. It provides grounding for the conviction that life has meaning. Evil may not be understood, yet within the universe of Godıs beauty it can be accepted. Evil is a "midwife" who "superintends the change" from one form of beauty to another. Death leads to life. Nothing is futile, nothing is wasted.

- Richard Cartwright Austin

Home | Books | Moral Imagination | Environmental Theology | Other Publications
About Creekside Press & Contact Us | About Dick Austin | Site Map & Search