Laura Riding on a Religion That Is Not a Religion
“While other poets were endeavoring to fashion poetry into a compromise between an adapting of the historic conception of human spirituality to modern humanistic sophistication and the preservation of the historical identity of poetry as a highly honored literary function, I had not the least difficulty in uniting the traditional character of poetry as an active literature of spirituality with the dignities of modern intellectuality. But these were attached, for me, to scruples of linguistic verity, not to doctrinaire enlightenment-opinion.
I was religious in my devotion to poetry. But in saying this I am thinking of religion as it is a dedication to, a will to know and make known, the ultimate knowledge, a will to think, to be, with truth, to voice, to live articulately by, the essentialities of existence. Poetry made itself the secular twin of religion. But its secularity has not been of a ‘worldly’ cast. Rather than endeavoring to serve as a ritual of spirituality symbolic of the religiously serious, a process of metaphorical imitation of it, a mere art, it has, except in vulgar conception and practice, endeavored to serve as an area for the exercise of spiritual consciousness as a directly, personally possessed human function, not just a derivative of a mysterious condition of spiritual blessedness. Poetry, that is, made itself a charter of the internal, personally independent spirituality of the human being. Where religion dealt with the separation of a spiritual part from the mixed body-and-soul, or mixed body-and-mind, with soul as intermediating factor, poetry gave the spiritual element the rôle of a teaching presence in the complex composition of the individual human being. Poetry may be described as an institution devoted to the pursuit of spiritual realism, in relation to religion as an institution devoted to the pursuit of spiritual idealism. For those to whom the spiritual nature of the human being calls for literal expression, living fulfillment, there presses a sense of a necessity of choice between poetry and religion the quality of the urgency determines the choice.”