New Criticism on John Leax’s Sacramental Vision

New Criticism is an approach attempted to be a science of literature that emphasizes explication or close reading of the work itself without desiring and considering the intensions of the author. It is an approach that requires us to look closely only to the text. Historicism’s attention to biographical and sociological matters are rejected when we analyze a text using this approach. It does not analyze a text by examining the relationships between text’s ideas and its context – but between text’s ideas and its form. It examines what a text says and the way it says it. It insists that the meaning of the text is intrinsic.

Patterns of sound, imagery, narrative structure, point of view, and other techniques discernible on close reading of the text are the tools to determine the function and appropriateness of a text. To analyze a text using New Criticism, we need to ask ourselves about how the text mean to us and what it hides from us.

Here is an example of New Criticism analysis. The poem’s title is Sacramental Vision written by John Leax and was published in the book The Task of Adam in 1985. The title of Sacramental Vision itself has a certain meaning reflecting its content. The word Sacrament, according to Cambridge Dictionary, has a meaning as an important religious ceremony in the Christian Church, such as baptism or communion. From this word, we can guess that the content of the poem is about something related to religion and especially to God. This poem uses many figurative languages and imagery as tools to convey its real meaning. 
 
Sometimes in my dream
he is still alive.
We stand at the fence
talking about the garden

These first four lines of Sacramental Vision talks about the longing for heaven and afterlife happiness. The word he in the second line refers to God that, according to the text, is believed to exist by the writer. God’s place is in the spiritual world, which is pictured as a dream in the poem. Then, the word garden refers to heaven and the word fence refers to the border between heaven and the world we are living right now.


 “Plant kohlrabi,” he says
and I remember the way
he’d slice white wafers
from the bulb, offering
them to me balanced
on his knife blade. 

If Plant kohlrabi is translated into English, then it becomes plant cabbage. Cabbage here is a figurative language for good deeds that humans need to collect as much as they can before they die. According to this poem, God orders us to plant cabbage – to do good things and make them our investment as a requirement to go to heaven. However, the road to go to heaven is not easy at all. Good things are not always so easy to do, too. There must be obstacles that block us from getting good deeds. It is true, however, that God only gives us the best. The best here is represented by white wafers which are usually sweet and tasty. However, God does not give us white wafers so easily. He gives us the wafers by offering it on a knife. A knife can be so dangerous and even has the possibility to hurt us. It represents troubles and treats that we will face in the journey of reaching heaven. It shows that good deeds are not so simple to achieve – which also means that going to heaven takes effort. To go to heaven, we have to face knife that God gives us. 

I would eat again
that sharp sacrament
and join myself
to that good world
he walk, but I wake
in time 

Although the white wafers are not so pleasing because it is offered on a knife, the writer does not want to give in. He keeps eating them. The reason is perhaps because the taste of the white wafers is contagious and worth the danger of the knife. It shows that doing good things cannot be stopped just because of obstructions. Instead of being troubled and hold out by those obstructions, we get into doing good things so much deeper and join ourselves with it. However, soon the writer realized that God is above him. God is waiting for him to collect deeds as much as possible. We will never know when we will die and lose the chance to do good things. 

and I know my flesh is one
with frailty. The garden
I must tend is dark
with weeping, grown up
in widow’s weeds.

In this last stanza, the writer expresses his restrictiveness. He realizes so well that he is just a human with all frailty. Humans are weak and their abilities are limited. Therefore, God is up there to help humans whenever they think they cannot manage their heavy burdens. Literary, God is a symbol of hope and helper for humans to go to heaven. However, the heaven itself is somewhere far away. We cannot see it yet nor feel it. This is why in the text the garden is mentioned to be dark, with weeping, grown up in widow’s weeds. Heaven is like a destination of everyone although not all of them will go there. It depends on their good deeds, unfortunately. Heaven, however, seems so far away and demands us hard efforts to step on their front door.