Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Questions About Angels"

Billy Collins was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003 and I had to read and comment on four of his poems for an AP English 12 summer assignment. Here is my commentary:

I am fond of Billy Collins’s “Questions About Angels” because this poem was very thought-provoking to me as someone who is deeply interested in Roman Catholic theology, including, among many other branches, angelogy. Moreover, I feel that Collins’s questions deserve answers.

The most frequently heard question Collins starts out with, in a tone of complaint and implied curiosity, is the number of angels who can be said to be able to dance on a pinhead at the same time. The thing that makes these questions worthwhile is that they beg, i.e. lead to, many other questions. The first inquiry begs the question, “Is an angel in a place?” I would venture to say that an angel is in a place in a different way than a body, which, unlike an angel, has dimensional quantity; an incorporeal angel is in a corporeal place by using its power to act there. An angel, unlike God, does not have infinite power, so he must be in only one place and not be omnipresent, viz. wherever he applies his finite power. And so I say that several angels cannot be in the same place simultaneously. For there cannot be two immediate causes of the same thing, and an angel is in the place it immediately affects. Therefore, there can be but one angel dancing on the head of a pin, but not because one angel would fill that place like a body leaving no dimensional room for another. Sure enough, Collins’s poetic hypothesis is “one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet, a small jazz combo working in the background.” Collins’s use of the simile “she sways like a branch in the wind” made me think of the beauty, loveliness, and serenity of God’s highest spiritual creatures.

Collins’s figurative language caught my attention and made me ponder these questions because he anthropomorphized the angels, as I am more likely to be concerned about someone who is similar to me in respect of human(-like) characteristics. For example, Collins wonders “about their sleeping habits” and “the fabric of their robes.” Collins cleverly phrases a question about their beatific vision (vision of God in His essence) in terms of a “diet of unfiltered divine light,” a fitting metaphor in light of the aforesaid definition of their blessing. I thought Collins described them as “tall presences” because they are noble creatures and mentioned “a wall [angels] can look over and see hell” in order to emphasize the likeness of Heaven to a sanctuary.

Questions for Discussion: Which question about angels was most interesting to you, how would you answer it, and why?

No comments: