A poetics of piety

I just came across an old lecture I gave on Christina Rossetti and found, besides this lovely sketch of her in coloured chalks by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, this quote from Virginia Woolf, penned in 1918:

“…if I were bringing a case against God she is one of the first witnesses I should call…First she starved herself of love, which meant also life; then of poetry in deference to what she thought her religion demanded…Poetry was castrated too.  She would set herself to do the psalms into verse; & to make all her poetry subservient to the Christian doctrines.  Consequently, as I think, she starved into emaciation a very fine original gift, which only wanted licence to take to itself a far finer form than, shall we say, Mrs [Elizabeth Barrett] Browning’s …She has the natural singing power.  She thinks, too. She has fancy. She could, one is profane enough to guess, have been ribald & witty. And, as a reward for all her sacrifices, she died in terror, uncertain of salvation.”

I agree that often religious asceticism is at odds with creativity, but I don't think anyone could look at the canon of religious poetry in English, least of all at Rossetti's contribution, and conclude that religion had stifled the poetic imagination. Making poetry subservient to Christian doctrines may in some cases have produced some God awful poems, but I think in far more cases it has been a fusion or collision out of which has erupted great beauty. Some of the best English poetry has been hurled from the sheer cliff faces of religious faith, or whispered from the darkest corners of self-sacrifice. The tension in Rossetti, as in many others, between discipline and effusion, between revelation and imagination, is the magnetic force that draws us, century by century, back to the poets that forsake licence for the sake of piety.