In his new book, A More Beautiful Question: The Spiritual in Poetry and Art, Glenn Hughes sets out to recoup for art, and especially for the art of poetry, its spiritual aspect. “That art has an essentially spiritual function is scarcely novel,” he writes. “It is echoed in the writings of major thinkers from Augustine and Aquinas through Hegel and Levinas.”

By examining the works of three poets in particular—Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, and Emily Dickinson—Hughes builds a case for art’s rejoinder to the materialism of our secular age. Hughes guides the reader through their poems, showing that “with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, [they] are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ food if they weren’t” (this last in the words of Dylan Thomas).

Hughes, a philosophy professor at St....

 

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