1 Theol. a) a messenger of God b) a supernatural being, either good or bad, to whom are attributed greater than human power, intelligence, etc. 2 a guiding spirit or influence one’s good angel 3 a conventional image of a white-robed figure in human form with wings and a halo 4 a person being regarded as being as beautiful, good, innocent, etc. as an angel: said esp. of women and children
-Webster’s New World College Dictionary

Angels have held significant and significantly different meanings to various people and peoples over time. Whether they hold religious significance or are just a representation of inspiration, belief or beauty, the ideas behind the word “angel” are personal and have great importance. The personal meaning of the word is explored in throughout poetry from at least the time of the Bible, but in more modern times, the religious connotation has often been shed. Such is the case in Nipert’s "Looking for Angel", Milosz’s "On Angels", Raine’s "Nocturn" and Rilke’s first verses of his poem, "The First Elegy".

In Michael Nipert’s 1998 poem, "Looking for Angel", the angel is less of a religious being and more of a muse. Angel is her name, but inspiration is her calling. At the beginning of the poem, she is absent and the narrator of the poem is in search of her. “…And then she came sun down…she played our bodies/like long abandoned instruments/we cried out it is true Angel exists/words rolled like water over the tongue/and the forehead was a cloud/where visions came…” With the appearance of “Angel” words and visions were restored to the narrator until she left again. In this poem, the angel is not of religious significance nor is she conventional; she is guidance to the author.

Czeslaw Milosz takes a different stance to angels in his poem, "On Angels". Rather than having one named being represent an angel, Milosz generalizes the idea and creates a being that he describes as an angel without ever identifying it with that word. From the beginning, however it is clear whom he is writing about. “All was taken away from you: white dresses, wings, even existence. Yet I believe you, messengers.” Milosz describes the angel traditionally yet although there is a reference to the angel being a messenger that connects the definition to the Biblical meaning; the idea that existence can be taken away with the absence of belief is not based in religion. In the poem, the angel is once again very personal and rather than the angel being something that is believe in, it becomes something that represents belief, in general. “They say somebody has invented you/but to me this does not sound convincing/for humans invented themselves as well. /The voice-no doubt it is a valid proof….” The relationship of the angel and the narrator is private and the image of the being is classic. Once again, the angel is somewhat of a guardian or driving force that comes at the end of the poem: “day draws near/another one/do what you can.”

Angels are usually considered to be beautiful beings. Whether that is because of the association with God or the general benevolent connotation, angels have always been association with beauty. In "Nocturn" by Raine, angels are much associated with the beauty and peace of nature. “It would be peace to lie/Still in the still hours at the angel’s feet. /Upon a star hung in a starry sky, /But hearts another measure beat.” Angels are ethereal and calm creatures to Raine yet to Rilke they have a much different intensity even though they symbolize the similar idea of beauty. “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’/hierarchies…? I would be consumed/in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing/but the beginning of terror…Every angel is terrifying.” For Rilke, the presence of this great beauty would be nothing close to the calm that Raine thought she would feel. Rilke imagined a much more extreme beauty that he would feel overwhelmed and terrified in its presence. Even among similar associations to beauty, that both poems hold, there is such a different take on what, exactly, an angel is.

Another theme that varies between these poems is the accessibility to the angels, themselves. Traditionally, as God’s messengers, they called on you, not the other way around, yet these four poets all have different takes on how angels play a role in their lives or the universe, at large. Nipert’s narrator is constantly searching for the inspiration that “Angel” holds while angels speak in “unearthly tongues” to the narrator in Milosz’s poem. For both Raine and Rilke, the experience with angels are imagined yet Rilke asks in the second verse of The First Elegy “whom can we ever turn to/in our need? Not angels…” In Looking for Angel and On Angels, the angels play a helpful role yet in Rilke’s The First Elegy they cannot even be turned to in need.

Throughout art, it is safe to say that the concept of an angel has morphed from the Biblical invention of the being to what it represents today. These four poems show that although the word’s meanings still circle are a general idea or feeling, the actual definition and interpretation of the word “angel” has been adapted to suit the needs or beliefs of the artist.

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