Mark Jarman's Unholy Sonnets: Belief in God

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Adele Literski
January 31, 2012

Laugh with the Sinners, or cry with the Saints
To believe in a God or not has been a question asked by humans since the dawn of man. Some chose to believe in an all prevailing higher power, while others chose to believe that there is no such thing. In Mark Jarmans Unholy sonnets, he debates these questions within his poetry, leaving the reader to asking themselves these questions. I found myself thinking “I’de rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints”(Billy Joel, “Only the good die young”) by the end of most on Jarmans Unholy Sonnets. In “Unholy Sonnet 12” Mark Jarman discusses the issue of faith with a terrible twist at the end, using the story of a loyal farmer who “greeted each success with great amens”(8). Jarman uses the earnest lifestyle of a farmer to draw his readers in and make them feel compassion for the man. This is much different than the technique Jarman uses in “Unholy Sonnet 13” where he begins with drunks, who we soon find out are two young Americans. Instead of using a “saint”(a faithful farmer) like he did in “Unholy Sonnet 12”, Jarman decides to use sinners as his example for “Unholy Sonnet 13”. Many people chose to follow the faith of a god, treading on tracks to a “good” and “honest” life. The farmer in “Unholy Sonnet 12” has chosen to live his life as such. Jarman uses the word “pious” to describe the man; “There was a pious man upright as Job,

In fact, more pious, than upright, who prayed
The way most people thoughtlessly enjoy
Their stream of consciousness.”(1-4)
The overuse of the word pious is Jarmans emphasis on the mans faith. To be pious is to have or show a dutiful spirit of reverence for God or an earnest wish to fulfill religious obligations. After Jarman has built the character, he tears him right back down. In the second stanza of “Unholy Sonnet 12” the farmer returns from the bank to find a startling scene; “So he was shocked, returning from the bank,/To...
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