Christopher Smart's 'A Song To David': An Explication
By Hilda G. Strong PhD
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This unique interpretation of Christopher Smart’s masterpiece begins with a biography which offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of Christopher Smart, an extraordinary poet who died in an insane asylum all but abandoned by family and friends. Convinced that the current names of the days of the week should be changed to words that represent the true God of the universe, Smart chose seven Greek letters which are references to Christ. Scholars and critics have attempted to explain these letters, but none have apprehended Smart’s purpose which was “to preach the very gospel of Christ.” Herein Strong explains the reason for and meaning of these chosen Greek letters and their relation to the whole.
Born in Preston, England, and raised in London, Hilda Strong (1924-2017) emigrated to the USA in 1946. She was a wife and mother, elementary teacher and later college professor, active Seventh day-Adventist church member, and founder of the English War Brides’ Club in Lewiston, Idaho. Hilda earned her English Literature Ph.D. in 1980 with a 4.0 GPA, having won the highest awards and honors from all colleges and universities she attended.
Hilda Strong’s PhD dissertation Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno: A Doomsday Poem, which I directed, provided her with the background and knowledge to undertake her masterful explication of the poet’s A Song to David. Strong’s work is the first critical examination to recognize the poem as a medium for presenting the gospel of Christ. As she explains, “written to delight, the poem’s main purpose was to instruct, to bring the very gospel of Christ” to as large an audience as possible. Thus, Strong overturns centuries of criticism of A Song to David that simply views it as a hymn to the dead King David. - Thomas C. Faulkner, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Washington State University
Hilda Strong’s book, Christopher Smart’s A Song to David: An Explication is a brilliant venture into Smart’s poetic masterpiece. Strong highlights Smart’s early life—as scholar, poet, actor, entertainer, and London dandy, with his alleged madness and his confinement, as crucial preparations for writing his poem. Her explication of the poem itself is intricate and daring. In her view, The Song is not merely a praise of King David, but a subtle, and allegorical, presentation of the Gospel itself. As such the poem is both Christian and Horatian—it instructs and delights us into Christ’s way. Strong’s scholarship is extensive and deep. She writes clearly and convincingly about the poem’s allusive subtlety, which turns on Smart’s meticulous knowledge of the Bible and his sensuous poetic style. Her exploration of his use of the Greek alphabet is especially notable. In her view, it signifies phases in the emanation of the Word of God, the Logos, as creative act, and is a testament to her passionate attention, scholarly acumen and poetic sensibility. - William Johnson, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Lewis-Clark State College
It is a very worthy project. - Alden Thompson, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Walla Walla University