Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was a US Poet Laureate. He proposed that books of American poetry be placed next to Gideon Bibles in motel rooms. “Poetry,” he reasoned, “is perhaps the only insurance we’ve got against the vulgarity of the human heart.” Before Brodsky’s death in 1996, many books had already been distributed to hotels and hospitals.

Those of us who love poetry find in it pleasure, wisdom, and inspiration. But even the best literature cannot be compared to the value of the words of the Bible.

Imagine a despairing soul on the verge of suicide picking up a book of poetry and thumbing through its pages. It’s highly unlikely that even the noble thoughts of Henry W. Longfellow or John Greenleaf Whittier, to say nothing of a modern poet like T. S. Eliot, would inspire him to fall on his knees and cry out to God for mercy and grace. Yet the Gideons’ files are full of testimonies from individuals who, alone in their hotel rooms, have opened a Bible and through its message have been born again to newness of life.

Poetry has its honored place in our culture. But human words, however creatively woven together, can never take the place of God’s Word.