Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

You’ve probably figured out by now that theology and literature are pretty inseparable disciplines for me, two areas of study that I feel compelled to pursue together, however well I may be able to integrate them.  After all, for Evangelicals theology is based on the exposition of a text—the Bible.  Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and Philology is her Handmaid.

The interesting thing about this poem is that it was inspired, not by Calvin, but by Chaucer, who wrestles with the question of predestination and free will in a number of his poems, “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” and “Troilus and Cressida” among them.  Of course, having read Calvin and a few other people didn’t hurt.

Geoffrey Chaucer on the Road to Canterbury

On Election and Free Will


All night long we’d sat up and debated

If Man is free, or if his will is fated

To choose as it has been predestinated.

Or, if Man is responsible and free

By God’s immutable and fixed decree,

Yet God rules all by strict necessity,

How can necessity and freedom mix?

The whole thing left my mind in such a fix

That I went walking, trying to explain

It all, and so got caught out in the rain.


John Calvin, Predestined to Write the Institutes
John Calvin, Predestined to Write the Institutes

The first drops turned to steam upon the road,

But then they all came thick and fast, and flowed

Together.  It was possible to tell

The precise moment they no longer fell

Directly on the pavement with a hiss

But joined to form a watery abyss

That rushed to pile itself up in a heap

Along the curbs, and soon was ankle deep.


Geoffrey Chaucer, Poet of Predestination
Geoffrey Chaucer, Poet of Predestination

And all that water had to go downhill

Until it found some river it could fill

Which, in its turn, would have to find the sea.

They did not ask advice from you or me

Or stop to talk abstruse theology,

But just went on about their business, free

To be what their own natures bade them be.


Chaucer tries to capture both sides of the mystery, as I have essayed here.  Read those tales and see how well you think he does.  As for Calvin, he is really not so much about determinism as grace; and if he has to emphasize one side of the mystery of predestination and free will to preserve sola gratia, so be it, as far as he is concerned.  And I say amen to that.

John Calvin
John Calvin, Theologian of Grace

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.


A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

Donald T. Williams, PhD


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