I always wanted to be one of those writers who could turn religious stories into poetry. Jacob’s Ladder; The Prodigal Son; Milton’s Satan coursing among stars…
When I write about anything having to do with religious themes three things happen almost instantly.
1. I forget something crucial about the original story. If I were to write about Jacob’s Ladder it would look like this:
Jacob looked up the ladder and saw angels proceeding ahead of him and Lo! He saw that the angels weren’t wearing any shoes. This caused Jacob to wonder if the ladder, which he found to be rather a splintery affair was just a miserable contraption designed for human kind, or whether in point of fact the angels could even feel pain—or did they no longer feel pain, in which case, should he take off his shoes?
2. As you can see, my version of the story leaves out the other half of the ladder which had the angels coming back down.
3. If you forget about the earthward angels you are likely also forgetting to look at the returning angels’ feet. This is hugely important for if the angels coming back from heaven are wearing shoes then we know that the afterlife is full of cobblers and leather tanners. That would be very comforting information for my Finnish ancestors.
Alas I am too practical and salty for religious poetry. I wish the facts were otherwise.
What for instance do the angels do about those wings while they’re going up and down the ladder? How do the upward angels keep from tangling their feathers with the downward angels? I’ve been on a ladder or two in my lifetime. In general I think its safe to say that wings are a liability when you’re climbing or descending.
Genuine religious poets know that the ladder is symbolic. They know that the wings are real. I don’t know how they know this, but they do.
This is of course the origin of all mysticism: wings, yes; ladders, no; giving Jacob the impression that both are real: easy. Show him the ladder; don’t mention the wings.