Within a devotional poem, readers can expect to see direct and less apparent allusions to religion. Often, this is Christianity but certainly not always. Poets from any age or movement can write devotional poetry. There is no single form devotional poems take except that they focus on one thing, usually God, that the poet is dedicated to.
Devotional Poetry pronunciation: deh-voh-shun-uhl poh-eh-tree
Explore Devotional Poetry
Devotional Poetry Definition
Devotional poetry expresses a writer’s love and worship of something particularly special to them. This is often religious, and these poems are usually directed toward God. But, sometimes devotional poetry is written with secular love in mind.
A poem could be directed towards a speaker’s lover, someone they’re completely obsessed with. For example, in William Shakespeare’s Fair Youth Sonnets. For example, ‘Sonnet 31’ in which the speaker imbues the Fair Youth with all the love that the speaker should’ve given to and received from other lovers. He speaks reverentially about the young man’s capacity to love.
Examples of Devotional Poetry
This beautiful contemporary poem describes the wonders of nature and the value a speaker places on the sights she observes in God’s world. The poet describes the various parts of the world she finds the most moving in the text. This includes the winds, mists, woods, and more. They are too heavy for her to lift, relating to her previous suggestion that she wants to “hold” the world as close to her as she can. The speaker then says:
Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
She turns her words to God, informing him that she is full of emotions and that he may have made the world too beautiful this year. She concludes by asking that God keep her from seeing any more of nature’s beauty as she won’t be able to handle it.
Read more Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.
The Creation by James Weldon Johnson
Johnson’s religious poetry is well-regarded, and ‘The Creation’ is one of his best. The piece talks about the biblical story of the creation of heaven, earth, sun, moon, and other creatures. Broadly, it is a retelling of the story of Genesis. The poet starts by suggesting that God felt lonely, and for that reason, he created the earth. He brought more and more into existence until he created rain and creatures with the spontaneity of life. The speaker celebrates this process and the world it resulted in. Here are a few lines:
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Read more James Weldon Johnson poems.
Robert Herrick centers ‘To Find God’ around a question all readers have pondered at one point or another: does God exist? Without offering a definitive answer, the poet leaves readers with powerful images that linger and cause the readers to ponder the possibility of the existence of a higher power. This poem was written with the intention of reminding readers of this question and its implications. Here is the first stanza:
Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?
Distinguish all those floods that are
Mixed in that wat’ry theater,
And taste thou them as saltless there,
As in their channel first they were.
Read more Robert Herrick poems.
God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
In ‘God’s Grandeur,’ the poet celebrates God’s glory and his creation. God’s glory manifests itself in two ways. At times, it flames out with sudden brilliance, as when a silver foil is shaken, it gives out glints of light. And at other times, God’s glory becomes apparent over a longer period. He compares this to oil crushed from olives slowly oozing out and gathering into a thick pool. Here are a few more lines from the poem:
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
The poem suggests that faith is more powerful than a pessimistic view of human life. The speaker can look through the darkness and maintain his love for God and creation. The last image describes how the Holy Ghost looks after humanity with the same protective care as a dove looks after its young ones.
Read more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
Why Do Poets Write Devotional Poetry?
Poets write devotional poetry when they want to share their love for something, usually God’s creation and their broader faith. These poems are often a celebration of faith and may even be used as a way for the writer to recommit to their religion. Poems like those shown above are clear examples of religious devotional poems. It’s also possible to share one’s devotion for a particular way of life or even another person and consider it a devotional poem.
Devotional poetry is important because it reveals a poet’s inner attachment to religion and shares some of the longest-lasting, unifying elements of human existence. Religion connects people throughout the ages. Therefore, devotional poems are often just as meaningful now as when they were written.
Anyone can be a devotional poet if they write devotional poetry. There is no single period in literary history defined solely by devotional poetry. It can take any style and be written by anyone wanting to share what they are devoted to.
You can start by considering what it is you’re interested in. If it’s religion, it might be helpful to write down the ways religion has helped you or changed your view of the world. If one of these is more important than the others, it might be the best subject for your poem.
They are often appealing to those interested in exploring different ideas about religion or are seeking to understand their own religious beliefs better. These poems can also appeal to those simply interested in reading skillful writing.
Related Literary Terms
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Allegory: a narrative found in verse and prose in which a character or event is used to speak about a broader theme.
- Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
- Apologue: a short story, sometimes a fable, that shares a moral lesson. For example, kindness is more important than power, or love triumphs over hate.
- Fable: a short and concise story that provides the reader with a moral lesson at the end.
- Motif: an action, image, idea, or sensory perception that repeats in a work of literature.
- Read: God’s World by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Read: 12 of the Best Poems About God
- Read: 20th Century Christian Poets