Synopses & Reviews
A passionate meditation on the consolations and disappointments of religion and poetry.
Christian Wiman, an award-winning poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, has had two constants in his life, two things that have defined him and given him solace in his times of need: faith and verse. But when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he began to question what his Christian beliefs and his love of poetry could really do — not only to save him from death but also to give him comfort in his pain.
Written in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, during a time when Wiman was convinced he was going to die, My Bright Abyss radiates with the intensity of a man attempting to confront his feelings and doubts while he still has time. It is a powerful meditation on what it means — for an artist and a person — to have faith not just in God but in anything in the face of death.
“[Christian Wiman's] poetry and his scholarship have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world. This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the readers surprise and assent are one and the same.” Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead
“Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss creates in the reader the keen, poetic attention of a man with a cancer diagnosis trying to remain fully present in his life. His spiritual ancestors are C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton. Like Lewis, he's surprised by the joy of falling in love. Like Merton, he captures the smugness that can poison some atheists as it does some believers. This masterwork of doubt and faith, literature and theology, will affect nonbelievers and spiritual seekers alike.” Mary Karr, author of Lit and The Liars Club
“In another day and age, this book would be called a revelation, a mysticism, a holy text. What does it mean for a modern man to believe? In this extremely moving narrative, this question is asked with grace and fury, with astonishing eloquence and courage that only a few can equal in our time. It will be read for years and years to come.” Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa
“Forged from pain, like most masterpieces, My Bright Abyss provides an advanced course in applied mysticism for the twenty-first century.” Eliza Griswold, author of The Tenth Parallel
“Christian Wiman has written a moving, thoughtful meditation on faith and poetry that is really a treatise on meaning: where we find it, what it offers us, whether it can mitigate pain. There's a luminous clarity in these pages, the kind that comes only when a writer is facing ultimate questions.” Meghan O'Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye
"Burnished and beautiful, My Bright Abyss is a sobering look at faith and poetry by a man who believes fiercely in both, but fears he might be looking at them for the last time. Wiman's memoir is innovative in its willingness to interrogate not only religious belief, but one of its most common surrogates, literature....Wiman's story is chiefly a love affair: of a poet with words, of a husband with his wife and two daughters, of a believer with the holy....Here is a poet wrestling with words the way that Jacob wrestled the angel....Wiman calls his memoir the “Meditation of a Modern Believer,” and it is that, but more than meditation, it is an apologia and a prayer, an invitation and a fellow traveler for any who suffer and all who believe.” Casey N. Cep, The New Republic
“In My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer...Christian Wiman — himself a fine poet and translator of the Russian poet and essayist Osip Mandelstam — contemplates the meaning of poetic incarnation in specifically Christian terms, drawing on a wide range of authors. He blends poetry (his own and others), criticism, theological speculation, and memoir in ways that defy easy categorization.” Jay Parini, The Chronicle Review
“Wiman infuses his writing with lyricism and a playfulness with language....He augments his own mastery of language with the liberal use of quotations from other poets and writers, spanning an impressive range of literary backgrounds. Wiman's depth of knowledge as a reader truly undergirds this work, as he invokes everyone from George Herbert to Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonheoffer to Seamus Heaney. As the author struggles to understand God, he also struggles to comprehend the institution of Christianity, seeing in it deep flaws, an inability to fully grasp the depth of the God it proclaims, and what he sees as a childish clinging to legend and myth....Poignant and focused...Wiman's grasp of the written word carries this unconventional faith memoir.” Kirkus
Seven years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry
magazine, wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death. My Bright Abyss
, composed in the difficult years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith — responsive not only to modern thought and science but also to religious tradition — might look like.
Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, useful not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at times to overbrim its boundaries. How do we answer this “burn of being”? Wiman asks. What might it mean for our lives — and for our deaths — if we acknowledge the “insistent, persistent ghost” that some of us call God?
About the Author
Christian Wiman is the author of six previous books, most recently Every Riven Thing (FSG, 2010), winner of the Ambassador Book Award in poetry, and Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam.