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Sweeping, spinning

The desolate

Into a mottled expanse

Like hope


Unto the design

A cycle unique

Yet not unlike

The pieces of September

Spinning mobile

Harsh, yet defined

Entering focus with a familiar tune

Subterranean and sweet

This chosen vessel


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The Unfolding Image: a God of Light and Life

A powerful aspect of “The Great Hymn to Aten” is the sense of wonder that the author, Amenhotep IV, weaved throughout the poem. It is not a dry and stark rendition of creation or of an impersonal god, but a personal recognition of a God who has brought light, not only to the world at large, but to the individual. Amenhotep even changed his name to Akhenaten to convey his spiritual transformation in the presence of this God. The hymn reads as though the writer experienced a deep sense of awe at this “Sole God” who created light and, by it, brought all things into existence. In this way, “The Great Hymn to Aten” is similar to Psalm 104 in the Bible, which also reads as a work of worship to a singular God, creator of light and life. Neither writing is a monotonous liturgy; they are more sweeping acknowledgments of a powerful and glorious God who has also worked in the heart of the individual.

In “The Great Hymn to Aten,” the author makes use of overarching word pictures, writing of a God whose “rays embrace the lands” and “nurse all fields” (7, 95), who “makes waves on the mountains like the sea” (89), and who “made millions of forms from yourself alone” (104). The sense to be gained from these lines is one of awe at the magnificent power of this God. The writer also weaves in words and lines that bring forth a concept of the individual attention that this glorious God bestows, stating that God bends his rays “for the son whom you love” (10), and that he “feeds the son in his mother’s womb” and “soothes him to still his tears” (48-49). The poem engages God at the macro level, encapsulating his power over the world at large, yet descends to the micro level and captures a sense of his care for individuals on earth.

Psalm 104, like “The Great Hymn to Aten,” is a writing that attempts to encapsulate the magnificent and creative power of God, describing him as one who “stretchest out the heavens like a curtain” and “walketh upon the wings of the wind” (v. 2, 3). Not only does this God control the heavens and the firmament, but also the world; he “laid the foundations of the earth” and “causeth the grass to grow” (v. 5, 14). This God is not only an impersonal being, however, for a later verse states, “… the Lord shall rejoice in his works” (v. 31). The writer of the Psalm sees God as having humanlike emotions and finding joy in his creation and the works of his hands. This also conveys – though in a different manner from the hymn written to Aten – the concept of a personal God rather than a being completely detached from his creation.

Another Psalm, presumably by the same writer, takes this idea a step further, describing God – “the Lord” – in very humanlike terms. Psalm 23 uses the metaphor of God as a shepherd who provides for those in his care. The writer sees this God as one who provides (v. 2, 5), as one who leads and guides (v. 2, 3), and as one who comforts (v. 4). This author feels the individualized care of his God so strongly that he remarks, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (v. 4). He also trusts in the ultimate promise that he will “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (v. 6). When taken with the context of Psalm 104, one gains an overall view of God that is similar to what is seen in “The Great Hymn to Aten.” Both read as a personal revelation of a God who is magnificent and omnipotent, yet whose presence takes a personal approach in his concern towards the individuals he created.

Although the two authors are from different cultures and their writings are dedicated to two “different” gods, their experience and conception of this creator God of light and life and nature is uncannily similar. These particular writings convey that even though the writers’ cultures and backgrounds and worship were dissimilar, their perception of God was a personal experience that superseded their differences; both came to recognize a God of the heavens and the earth whose glory was clear in all that he had made. What is more, both writings saw God as a being who was focused on the individual creations that he had made.

This concept of an individual or personal God becomes more powerful in light of a line from “The Great Hymn to Aten” that observes, “You made millions of forms from yourself alone” (l. 104). Amenhotep perceives his God, Aten, as not only “lord of sky, lord of earth” (30), but also as the being from whom humanity came forth. The Book of Genesis – the foundational scripts that the writer of Psalms would have been intimately familiar with – conveys the same idea. It states, “And God created the human in his image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). If a God stamped mankind with his likeness, infused humanity with his character and personality, it follows that this God would be personally devoted to that creation and would do anything to protect and care for the thing he molded in his image.

Psalm 104, Psalm 23, Genesis Chapter one, and “The Great Hymn to Aten” all seem to proclaim this vision of God. They reflect wonder at a supreme God who controls the forces of nature and the heavens and life itself, but who is devoted enough to breathe life into the nostrils of humanity and ensure that his creation will never completely forget from whence they came.

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Would you lose me

In translation

Like I would lose you

In holding to my own

Faith or belief

Hope or spoken dream

Future, unaided by light

Or would you follow?

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I say I write

You ask what

I say everything

Hoping you’ll understand

Knowing you probably won’t

With your hesitant nod

and half smile, not quite sure

I have your answer

And so I write



you’ll ever read

My loss

Mine alone

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misty cliff








Sweeping gaze

to heights

to depths

Dreading haze

this might

these steps


Carving light

into sketches

into drought

Soldered height

Now fetching

Now without


Gracious sweep

in purpose

in breath

Hoping leap


to rescue

from death

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ash butterfly

Photo by Jim Hoffman








Tragic strait

At closing day

Unwanted, gapes

Bidden slowly drawn

Toward this fate

Ill-seen display

Approaching fast

Life’s sweet repast


Pounding, sweet

Metamorphosed height

Lacquered flowers

Poured from towers

Wandering complete

The forlorn flight

From streamlet night

Ash butterfly


Lone epitaph

Carved and forgotten

Contemplative rage

Withered, fraying stage

A sole reed staff

Clasped, besoughten

Release a sigh

Now lifting high


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Tapestry of a Woman

Creased and pleated

hung against the wall

fair innocence

now one to duty tied

Loftiest flights

now sweeping sordid stall

grief’s synonym

in sweat and hay deride

Bearing the hope

‘twixt a nuanced scene

devices like taffy

hold fast to spinning wheel

Atrophied escape

glittered, morphing sheen

memorized recipes, pony-tailed

falling, autumn-leafed, a knowing steal

Grasped and faded

calling to the night

the slightest song

silenced, like the soul

Aged and jaded

looping and pulled tight

as snowflakes fade

peering backward at the whole

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