Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Poetry, Mr. Wigglesworth?

I have compared Wigglesworth’s Day of Doom to a sermon, for it has a “preacherly” function. Using paraphrased Scripture set to ballad meter, the poem is meant to expound doctrine, prompt self-examination, and draw readers to repentance.  So, why didn’t Wigglesworth just use the sermon form?  Why switch to verse?
In Wigglesworth’s case, the catalyst seems to be a combination of life circumstances and concern for readers.  For significant periods of time, Wigglesworth was unable to man his pulpit due to physical infirmity.  In the prefatory poem to Day of Doom, excerpted to the left, he explains his poetry by the fact that he was physically unable to preach.  Poetry provided a way to share the message he was so passionate about—a way that would reach a wide audience. 
The reading experience was what counted in the Puritan writing aesthetic.  The truth had to be accurate, clear, and accessible.  Even for the Puritans, who were accustomed to hearing and reading sermons, I think poetry was more accessible as home reading.  Poems would also be more readily received by non-church-members. 
Rhythm and meter can be catching, but the key to Wigglesworth’s accessibility is dramatic portrayal of theological truths.  Unlike the sermon form, his poems are stories, with characters and dialogue.  Jeffrey Hammond points out that the readers could see themselves in the sinners who plead before the Judgment seat—the hypocrites, the reliers on works, the misguided, etc.  Further, the character of Christ the Judge would prompt a reader to seek Christ the Merciful while there is yet time.
I can see Wigglesworth, languishing in his sickbed, yet so full of urgency for the unregenerate that he could not rest with a stopped tongue.  He unleashed the truth, instead, through his pen, in a form that he thought would speak directly to readers’ souls.


  1. And, remember, poetry was seen as more permanent than prose (a belief dating back to the ancient world).

  2. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Christine. There are two issues here well worth our consideration, the message of Wigglesworth and his example. His message was the urgency of getting right with God so as to be ready for Christ's return. Most would dismiss that today, but could it be that a message which so gripped Wigglesworth that he had to write about it even when ill is something worth our considering seriously as well? If Wigglesworth was right, eternity hangs on the answer. For those of us who believe that Wigglesworth was right, there is the matter of his example--in taking advantage of a means which he could use even when ill to get out the message he sought to proclaim from his pulpit when well. Does that kind of zeal and urgency which overcomes obstacles with God's help mark us? Generally speaking, the answer is no. May God enable us to learn from Wigglesworth.