Thursday, August 6, 2020

Art and the Spirit

It's August, and time for our Spiritual Journey group to share thoughts. Our friend Margaret Simon has suggested we write about art and spirituality. This prompt came at just the right time for me, as I had wanted to work on some ekphrastic poems anyway, and the spiritual component came forward quite naturally. So... to remind those who are new to the idea, here is a description of ekphrasis:


“Description” in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.

I chose a favorite N.C. Wyeth painting, Egrets in Summer, because I love its sense of calm and beauty. Once, while in NYC, I even peered inside the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building where it is held, in hopes of seeing it in person. Alas... no luck. Nonetheless, I have a nice double-page print in a book of Wyeth's work, and I relied upon that for my inspiration. 

Below is my attempt to marry the three strands: poetry, spirituality, and art. As I worked on my poem, I learned that all egrets are in the heron family, and that some herons have a white phase, so this work is sometimes called Herons in Summer, and sometimes Egrets in Summer. I chose to go with "herons" in my poem. 

Also, you may want to know that I did not originally think of this as a spiritual painting, but as mentioned in the description above, my reflections and attempt at amplification led me in that direction. So, without further ado...

Herons in Summer by N.C. Wyeth

Wherever Two or Three are Gathered

In the quiet of early morning

Heron takes wing

Like one of the faithful

Suddenly called to glory

White robes flapping

In earnest devotion


Sinuous necks turn and

Intent eyes follow as

The pond mirrors her crossing


It is a moment of holy beauty

A celebration of grace

Steeped with serenity

Lauded with lilies



Prayers of adoration

Rustle in the undulating reeds


   ©Karen Eastlund

Frederick Buechner writes about beauty this way:

Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh. A glimpse of it in a young face, say, or an echo of it in a song fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can. Unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far beyond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful.

"The beauty of holiness" is how the Psalms name it (29:2), and "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee" (42:1) is the way they describe the ache and the longing.


~originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

Wyeth's original work is 83" by 159", and I wish we could see it in its full glory. You can see a larger, clearer copy here.

Many thanks to Margaret Simon for hosting today. Find our gathering on the spiritual journey thread at Reflections on the Teche.

I wish you beauty, serenity, grace and celebration.


  1. So many lovely lines in your poem, Karen - "Like one of the faithful/Suddenly called to glory" - magnificent, soul-stirring analogy. I love that. I can see the other herons, turning their heads watching the one take flight. You capture and convey movement so beautifully, you evoke so many senses. I see the mirroring pond and the reeds waving; I hear the "prayers of adoration" rustling there. How we do long for this pure beauty. And holiness.
    There are threads of Scripture running through it all, even in the poem title. I find the artwork deeply spiritual - because nature is. Thank you for being a conduit of grace today... the world needs it so.

  2. N. C. Wyeth is one of my father's favorite artists, so that makes him special to me also. Your poem is a lovely expression of ekphrasis, the celebration of this moment full of grace.

  3. Beautiful! I love that painting - it looks Japanese.

  4. Karen, your poem is one of beauty and peace. "It is a moment of holy beauty
    A celebration of grace"
    Nature brings all of this into focus. The painting is full of expectation in flight. If we could give praise to each day of life, for every beautiful turning, then, I think we could connect with life in a spiritual way more easily. Your ending provides the proper spiritual touch. Many thanks for sharing this painting and pairing it with your lovely poem.

  5. I came in search of the September post and found your lovely post from last month. I love this stanza from your poem:
    "It is a moment of holy beauty
    A celebration of grace
    Steeped with serenity
    Lauded with lilies"
    We are favored with moments of grace every day if we just take the time to notice. I love the alliteration in your lines.