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Have you Ever Noticed?

Religion in Poetry

Various 19th Century poets use religious imagery to help readers relate to their poems and give them optimism. Authors such as Walter “Walt” Whitman, use the knowledge gained from the Bible to give readers some sort of moral to take and apply to their choices in life. There’s a lesson in most poems and they usually have a religious aspect. Rather it is them speechifying or debating the ideas in the Bible or expanding on them. Religion use in poetry has been popular for decades. The use of these symbols is what make the poem. 


When the authors use religion, they refer to symbols in the Bible and what they embody. For instance, in the poem Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: The part “”And brought water and filled a tub for his sweated body and bruised feet” reminded me of the scene in the Bible when Jesus showed humility. John 13:4-9 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet. “Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 

I know not everyone is religious, but this is something I noticed as a lover of poetry.


In those days washing someone else’s feet was considered a form of humility. A way to make yourself human. This was Jesus’ way of showing that he did not think of himself being better than us and that he loves us. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: The part “”And brought water and filled a tub for his sweated body and bruised feet” reminded me of It was also seen as a form of respect: Luke 7:44-4744 Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.

 45 You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has been kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet. 47 I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.” This is just another example of the various instances that this has occurred and I believe that this is an interesting topic to pay attention to when reading poetry. 


Another author who has used references to images and content from the Bible is Henry Timrod in his poem, Ethnogenesis. In this poem, he was trying to make readers aware of the troubles of having superiority of a group but it not getting them anywhere. Timrod uses phrases like “Pharisaic Leaven” which is a reference to Pharisees and dough which has significant meaning in the Bible. A Pharisee is a self-righteous person. He likewise referred to the “redder sea” which in the narrative in the book Exodus. Moses led Israelites through this body of water with direction from God.

The Israelites were escaping slavery which represents Ethnogenises very well because this poem was focused on the discussion of why the separation of North and South is not rational but displays dysfunctions of one side. Slavery makes no sense in both the Bible and the world today and Timrod was making it his point to share the reasons with readers. 

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Emily Dickinson went about her reference to Bible in an unusual way. She used images like the Devil in “I Heard a Flu Buzz”.  The poem was about death which dealt with religion due to the idea of Heaven and Hell. There was the image of a fly buzzing by her and that was where her focus was. A fly is the representation of death but it also can represent the Devil. Dickinson was trying to help readers understand and get closure to the idea of death and uncertainties in an afterlife. She discussed that how you die had no importance


was important was what we left on this Earth which made me think of the poem by Longfellow, A Psalm of Life. The line specifically was about, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time”. The title of the poem shows the reference to the Bile right away. “Psalm” in the religious aspect means a sacred song or hymn. Which Dickinson uses as inspiration for the form for a lot of her poems. Hymns usually have the form of six lines for each stanza and if you look at various poems by Dickinson you can see that.  “I Heard a Flu Buzz”.   Is similar to her poem “The Light from her Eyes Faded” which shares the same idea of the decease and belief.

A Poet

 who I believe sets the bar for the use of Religion in his poems and gives inspiration, is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a novelist and poet. He was not for slavery so he wrote in uprightness of them and their voice demanding to be heard. I admire him for giving hope and calling out others in the world for their wrongs doings (slavery).  His work Poems on Slavery, created images for readers and put us in disequilibrium in orders for us to see things from a different perspective and understand their feelings as being a slave.  For example, in the poem “The Slave Dream”, that was his way of shedding light on the slave and show that they are human too.  “Beware the ungathered rice he lay, his sickle in his hand;” I can just feel the power behind those words and the sympathy he has for slaves. 

Readers can use the references to religion as inspiration and motivation to keep them going through life. Some poets write the poem for themselves because they are going through a situation in where they need hope. Hope that things will get better and they can achieve their dreams. With Whitman, you saw how educated he was about slavery and how he could back up his ideas about being against slavery. I believe that anyone who stands for something should be able to back their opinions up with facts. Whitman was active in movements to make a positive change in society, 

The difference between Longfellow and Whitman in my eyes is the choice of diction. Their approach different but many people around the world love them both. They both believed in equality but Longfellow’s focus was on the freedom of slaves and abolishing that idea. While Whitman wanted equality for everyone.  Both in a sense had a way of bringing up politics in their work without factually mentioning it. 

These authors gave those who could relate hope because they used spirituality to uplift people. I believe that there are multiple layers to a poem. The top layer being the literal meaning, but the layer beneath that, which is most significant, the layer consisting of deeper denotation. This layer usually consists of certain references from the Bible for certain authors like Longfellow. That very reason is why a poem must be read more than once to get a full understanding of what the author was going for. These poems can inspire, change, encourage and so much more, whether readers are religious or not.

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