Poetry

Lectionary Poetry – 26th Sunday After Pentecost ( Year B )

With the dawn of a new church year, we have launched a new feature on our website, a weekly post of poetry that resonates with the lectionary readings for that week (Revised Common Lectionary).

 
 

*** Revised Common Lectionary ***

Lectionary Reading:
John 18:33-37

 
 

CLASSIC POEM:

Pilate
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Unchill’d I handle stinging snow;
The sun whose vast afflictive heat
Does lay men low with one blade’s sudden blow
Cleaves not my brain, burns not my feet,
When the fierce skies are blue to black, albeit
The shearing rays contract me with their blaze
Most dead-alive upon those days.

Then I seek out the shadow and stones
And to those stones become akin
My several moans come distant in their tones
As though they were not from within
And for that fearful hour life is more thin
And numbs and starves, as between icy wharves
A freezing runnel sobs and dwarfs.

Sometimes I see the summit stake
High up the balanced stony air
In whose dead lake even a voice may make
The hanging snows rush down and bare
Their rocky lodges. Then the weather rare
Allows the sound of bells in hamlets round
To come to me from the underground.

Often when winds impenitent
Beat, heave and the strong mountain tire
I can stand pent in the monstrous element
And feel no blast. — O fretful fire
Breathe o’er my bare nerve rather. I desire
They swathe and lace the shroud-plaits o’er my face,
But to be ransom’d from this place.

Whatever time this vapourous roof,
The screen of my captivity,
Folds off aloof, that signal is and proof
Not of clear skies, but storm to be.
But then I make an eager shift to see
Houses that make abode beside the lake,
And then my heart goes near to break.

Then clouds come, like ill-balanced crags,
Shouldering. Down valleys smokes the gloom.
The thunder brags. In joints and sparkling jags
The lightnings leap. The day of doom!
I cry ” O rocks and mountain make me room”
And yet I know it would be better so,
Ay, sweet to taste beside this woe.

*****

The pang of Tartarus, Christians hold,
Is this, from Christ to be shut out.
This outer cold, my exile from of old
From God and man, is hell no doubt.
Would I could hear the other Pilates shout.
But yet they say Christ comes at the last day.
Then will he keep in this stay?

There is a day of all the year
When life revisits me, nerve and vein.
They all come here and stand before me clear
I try the Christus o’er again.
Sir! Christ! against this multitude I strain. —
Lord, but they cry so loud. And what am I?
And all in one say ” Crucify!”

Before that rock, my seat, He stands;
And then — I choke to tell this out —
I give commands for water for my hands;
And some of those who stand about, —
Vespillo my centurion hacks out
Some ice that locks the glacier to the rocks
And in a bason brings the blocks.

I choose one; but when I desire
To wash before the multitude
The vital fire does suddenly retire
From hands now clammy with strange blood.
My frenzied working is not understood.
Now I grow numb. My tongue strikes on the gum
And cleaves, I struggle and am dumb.

I hear the multitude tramp by.
O here is the most piteous part,
For He whom I send forth to crucify,
Whispers ” If thou have warmth at heart
Take courage; this shall need no further art.”

*****

I have a hope if so it be,
A hope of an approved device;
I will break free from the Jews’ company,
And find a flint, a fang of ice,
Or fray a granite from the precipice:
When this is sought trees will be wanting not,
And I shall shape one to my thought.

Thus I shall make a cross, and in’t
Will add a footrest there to stand,
And with sharp flint will part my feet and dint
The point fast in, and my left hand
Lock with my right; then knot a barken band
To hold me quite fix’d in the selfsame plight;
And thus I will thrust in my right: —

I’ll take in hand the blady stone
And to my palm the point apply,
And press it down, on either side a bone,
With hope, with shut eyes, fixedly;
Thus crucified as I did crucify.

*** This poem is in the public domain, 
  and may be read in a live-streamed worship service.

 
 
CONTEMPORARY POEM:

Pilate’s Wife
Carol Ann Duffy

SNIPPET:

Firstly, his hands – a woman’s. Softer than mine,
with pearly nails, like shells from Galilee.
Indolent hands. Camp hands that clapped for grapes.
Their pale, mothy touch made me flinch. Pontius.

READ THE FULL POEM ]

 
 

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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