The first time I read this poem, I didn’t get most of what it said.
I knew the last line rang on intriguingly, as last lines sometimes do, and that it felt like the culmination of the whole poem, but I had missed the meaning of most of what had gone before. I liked it enough that I went back and read it many more times, out loud, until my mind was processing the sentences. (They are grammatical sentences, despite the first impression.)
Many poems function as I just described, this one has a really bad case of it. That’s because of the cacophony. The thing reads like a tongue twister. It really makes you work for it. And that’s what I ultimately love about it.
The other thing I love is how it addresses our universal fear that the world has been permanently ruined and that we can never get the glory back.
I hope you’ll read it through several times, as I did, and that the reading rewards you as much as it did me.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
it gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
crushed. Why do men then now not reck His rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
and all is seared with trade; smeared, bleared with toil,
and wears Man's smudge and shares Man's smell; the soil
is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Yet for all this, Nature is never spent:
there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And though the last lights off the black West went
oh, morning, o'er the brown brink Eastward, springs,
because the Holy Ghost over the bent
world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The death of a king.
He hangs here, fair,
bound, blue of skin and flowing hair,
with oken leaves to cover him.
Soon he will groan, a-crushing ‘twix two sacred stones,
and never a morsel for me, for me,
for after they will burn his bones.
The Precious Blood.
It costs, men say,
can stave off some god’s judgment day,
so valuable gods find him.
And others, too … a hundred valuable kings pass through,
but never a morsel for me, for me,
though I be Raven, black and true.
The Sacred Tale
may be told again,
when he’s long gone, of such great men
as Lancelot, God save him.
As Gawain, Percival, great lights, a sad score sacrificed by night,
(though never a morsel for me, for me),
and lastly, greatly, of the Christ.
The First of Kings,
ancienter than these,
was hung, in past age, on a tree,
with never a leaf to cover him.
And he did groan, and later All shall become his own —
but that’s to be. For now it’s me,
in grimmest vigil, all alone.
Do you feel uncomfortable with Romans at your back?
Are you thinking this is not exactly what you’d planned?
Are you thinking, This looks bad, but someday soon He’ll see
I was right to use my knowledge of Gethsemane.
Possible you don’t recall what, months ago, He said:
that the Christ must first be killed and then rise from the dead.
In the sacred city He’d be turned in to the priests,
then to the Gentiles to be killed – do you not feel unease?
Just hours ago He broke the news that He would be betrayed.
You’re certain He did not mean you … but why are you afraid?
If you would only think it through! But you’re set on your track,
although you look uncomfortable with Romans at your back.
Don’t think about it, Judas.
You’ve begun – now see it through.
There’ll be time for thinking later when you’re swinging from a noose.
Again He took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”
As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.