A stable lamp is lighted
whose glow shall wake the sky;
the stars shall bend their voices,
and every stone shall cry.
Twenty-five leading contemporary poets were invited to choose and write about their favorite hymn or spiritual song. Their essays have been collected in an anthology and published by Orison Books.
In Stars Shall Bend Their Voices, some of the most respected living poets meditate on the role of hymns and spiritual songs in their lives and writing. Representing many spiritual traditions and many approaches to personal spiritual practice, Stars Shall Bend Their Voices is a testament to the lasting impact of spiritual music on many of today’s best poets.
Order your copy from Orison Books or from your bookstore.
Essays commissioned for Stars Shall Bend Their Voices were pre-published in Commonweal, First Things, Image, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Literary Hub, Tiferet and other journals.
In the posts that follow, photographs of the poets are linked to sites that tell you more about their lives and work. Buy a volume of your favorite poet’s poems, essays or literary criticism.
All Creatures of our God and King Kimberly Johnson
Amazing Grace Alicia Ostriker
A Mighty Fortress Maurice Manning
Be Thou My Vision Scott Cairns
Breathe on Me Breath of God Margaret Gibson
Caedmon’s Hymn Edward Hirsch
Come My Beloved Yehoshua November
The Eid Takbeerat Zeina Hashem Beck
Great is Thy Faithfulness Kwame Dawes
Hallel Jacqueline Osherow
I Love to Tell the Story Kathleen Norris
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise Lorna Goodison
Islamic Call to Prayer Kaveh Akbar
Jesus is All the World to Me Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Linda Gregerson
O God Our Help in Ages Past Vijay Seshadri
O Little Town of Bethlehem Robert Hass
One Bread, One Body Kate Daniels
Onward Christian Soldiers Jay Hopler
Psalm 23 Richard Chess
Precious Lord, Take My Hand Sydney Lea
A Rastafarian Hymn Shara McCallum
Silent Night Jason Gray
Tantum Ergo Dana Gioia
There is a Green Hill Far Away Mark Jarman
This project was made possible by a grant from
the Louisville Institute, a Lilly Endowment-funded program.
Cover art: Cluster I by Ekaterina Smirnova
It is hard for me to explain the way in which the melody of this song affects me, but I can say that my body responds well to the fact that it covers a tonal range that comes close to straining my vocal capacity (especially if I begin in the wrong key) without causing great alarm. The pleasure is that for most of the song, there is the sweet place of ease in the melody, and as with the best choruses, it rounds itself beautifully to closure, but begs for repetition.
Zeina Hashem Beck
The prayers were a song I’d memorized over the years. As soon as I heard them, I’d start humming along in my head. It wasn’t the words that drew me in, as much as the repetition, the rhyming, and the rhythm—an incantation of sorts. These prayers had a beat faster than that of the adhan, which lingered longer on the words Allahu Akbar, and they were carried by a multitude of voices. There was something communal about them, something that said the entire city was celebrating, giving thanks.
After all the cruel and unspeakable things that have
been done in the name of “Christ, the royal Master,” we wouldn’t be the soldiers if He ever were
to lead an army “against the foe.” We’d be the foe.
It is a poem about Christmas and about peace written when the butchery at Shiloh and Gettysburg and Bull Run was still a wound in public memory, and it carries, in the aftermath of that war, the intensity of the yearning for peace. Poignant for us, because Bethlehem continues, in our time, to be a focus of that longing.
Something of that hymn’s shape—its words and its melody—cuts me deeply. It always has. I’m thinking that this is because the hymn is both a song of genuine worship, and an exceedingly earnest prayer.
This music, this way of hymning directly to God, was my first conscious experience of mellifluous charged language, and it’s the bedrock upon which I’ve built my understanding of poetry as a craft and as a meditative practice. There is no way to divorce my writing life from my spiritual life; that Venn diagram is just one big circle.