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We interrupt our usual Wineskin Project analysis for a public service announcement by Freeman Ng, the poet:

This play about the Songs of Mary and Zechariah illustrates the difference between routine verse and really good poetry. Zechariah has a statement to make – a largely theological (or political) statement – and he casts it in the form of ancient Hebrew poetry: in couplets where the pairs of lines echo or reinforce or develop each other in various ways. He does a decent, dutiful job of it (though he could have cut the parenthetical line, “as he said through his holy prophets long ago”, which disrupts the parallelism and has the sound of an apologist trying to squeeze in one more debating point) but nothing in his effort rises much above that. The one poetic device outside of the parallelism that he employs, the metaphor of the rising sun, is also decent and dutiful, but nothing special.

One can imagine him writing lots of poems like this in his role as a priest: praises to God, exhortations to the people, etc., and it’s all good. However, it’s not necessarily good poetry.

The Magnificat, on the other hand, is a different animal. You can read the play for most of what I have to say about it, but what I’ll say here is that it rises about the routine by juxtaposing the voice of a meek, humble, serene speaker with some really extreme statements: a frank assertion of the speaker’s exalted place in history, for example, or some equally frank (and apparently emotionless) condemnations of the proud and the rich.

It’s as if a beatific cherub opened its mouth to reveal fangs, or a golden sunset settled over the carnage of a battlefield, or an adorable little baby turned out to be the Alpha and Omega.