Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Analysis of "Amazing Grace" by John Newton

Original poem reprinted online here:  "Amazing Grace" by John Newton
Originally read: November 11, 2013
More information about the Poet: John Newton


When this poem came up, I wanted to think about it a little bit.  I've always known this poem as a song with pretty high religious significance.  I wasn't wrong about that, but the extent of the significance goes pretty far.

The poem is written in quatrains with an alternating rhyme scheme (abab) so the disparity is the idea of "amazing grace"  this sort of divine redemption, and the reality of the self:

     Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!)
     That sav'd a wretch like me!
      I once was lost, but now am found.
     Was blind, but now I see.

First this grace has changed the present situation.  Lost to found.  Blind and see.  Miraculous intervention through the divine.  But note how lowly the speaker puts himself as a "wretch" which is never expounded upon, just named.

     'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
     And grace my fears reliev'd;
     How precious did that grace appear,
     The hour I first believ'd!

This same grace places fear and relief.  This stanza also focuses on the idea of believing which has a time reference (the hour).  This "grace" saves, implants, and comes at the right times.

     Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
     I have already come;
     'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
     And grace will lead me home.

Just like John Newton, this specific stanza clarifies "wretch" in stanza one.  I usually don't go to the biographical, but here John Newton was a born again Christian (if I get my bio right).  Now, the "specifics" of what he does to be a "wretch" isn't clarified; however, the danger, toils, and snares indicate a past that, upon looking back, made him a wretch.  Grace takes another attribute as a guide.

     The Lord has promis'd good to me.
     His word my hope secures;
     He will my shield and portion be.
     As long as life endures.

Note every stanza is self encapsulated, but I feel this stanza is the most specific in the beginning and the most ambiguous at the end.  Yes, the Lord here is the equivalent to grace, well, until "life endures."  All life?  Pesronal life?

     Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
     And mortal life shall cease;
     I shall possess, within the veil.
     A life of joy and peace.

Both?  I find this a weird time to go both personal and expansive within the same stanza.  It's like the poem wants to be prophetic, to join the ranks amongst the grace that saves by stating "mortal life shall cease" but still be personal with "I shall posses"

So when the poem goes prophetic at the end:

     This earth shall soon dissolve like snow
     The sun forbear to shine;
     But God, who call'd me here below,
     Will be for ever mine.

The grace becomes blurred to a more didactic peace.  It's like reading two different poems -- the first half discussing the definition and power of grace according to the speaker, the second preaching that this grace saves lives, more importantly his life, but lives.

Weirdly, I feel this poem is a bit on the selfish side on being saved.

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