A New Literary Jerusalem

On my way to the office this morning I listened to Sufjan Stevens’s Seven Swans CD. Though this is not my point, it’s worth noting that I only bought his CD because I Googled “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for the lyrics, and discovered the Youtube video below, which is precisely the kind of thing that major record labels want to outlaw.

Anyway, as I pulled into the parking lot and popped out the CD, my radio blared some popular Christian song about how “you got me and Jesus.” It was jarring, to shift so suddenly from Stevens’s dreamy “Abraham” to that nasally, unimaginative croaking. Perhaps that’s the only way to recognize the richness of something, to trade it for dullness for a time.

I found this interesting, coming so quickly as it did on the heels of a similar experience over the weekend. I finished Walker Percy’s Lancelot on Sunday afternoon, and turned immediately to a couple of literary journals. Lancelot is by no means Percy’s best, and if you’ve not read him I recommend The Moviegoer instead. But after being immersed in his lyrical style, I was jarred by the clunkiness of what passes for so much modern prose. These are top journals, but I could barely stand to read a good bit of them, what with Percy’s phrasings still fresh in my mind. I imagine even his best would be rejected by a number of lit journals today, along with Robert Penn Warren and James Agee and Graham Greene. Those sentences are too long. There isn’t enough detail. All this falling from grace and coming to redemption is too fanciful. And seriously, what is up with those over-long sentences?

It’s depressing, the squeeze: an increasingly aliterate public on one side, and on the other a host of literary-minded folks hell-bent on murdering voice, narrative, and lyricism. I’m imagining a New Literary Jerusalem, and I don’t even need to be one of the writers. I’d be content just to sit in its shade and read. Perhaps with a little music:


  1. Tom

    ARRRGGGGHHHHH! Outlawing is much too mild!
    I couldn’t watch even half that video clip!
    It engendered an instant fantasy of going on a big game safari hunt, looking among the portrayed animals for my prey – the one who produced and posted this!

    There, I feel better. I’m sure the clip creator meant well, was sincere and had nothing but good intentions…but you know the saying about good intentions…

  2. Andrea Harris

    Have you read The Reader’s Manifesto? B.R. Myers slices pretentious “literary” writing and those big-name authors who commit it into tiny little gobbets.

  3. Abigail

    So happy to hear you discovered Sufjan! And what a great video. We’re stateside for a few weeks, soaking in the hot, hot sun at the lake. Summer as it is meant to be experienced!

  4. John

    Sufjan is great. Ben Harper, of course, has a couple of my favorite (arguably) Christian songs, too.

    I would also recommend Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. I loved the Moviegoer, and Lost in the Cosmos provides a nice elaboration on some of Percy’s philosophic beliefs within the confines a really unique book. You have to love those overlong sentences:)

  5. Sloan

    I teach biology to home school students. Seeing these images of the amazing diversity of life on this planet, coupled with one of my favorite hymns, was…well, perhaps “sublime” would not be too strong a word. Thanks for sharing.

  6. MMM

    That’s a nice song. I just have such a problem with people changing lyrics to hymns, although I suppose that’s ok if they’re in the public domain. Maybe it’s just MMMe, but this particular song is one of my favorites–as I learned it when a babe at my grandma’s knee, reading the hymnal. When it’s different, I almost feel a little affronted, like it didn’t say the beautiful things the first time….oh, well. I’m sure I’ll get over it. Nothing says I have to sing it that way….. 🙂

  7. dilys

    Oh my goodness. If the hymns are going to live on in the culture, this is about as good as it gets. I guess this will be the heritage of [“doing”] Emergent Church. Proliferating in the hands of the less talented, well, o my goodness.

    I’m with the MMM-lyrics-person. “Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wand’ring heart to Thee” is a lot less I’m alright Jack than “Let my praise…”

    How Welsh these lyrics are. The devotion of the feckless, of whom I am chief.

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