Friday, March 30, 2007

Stations of the Cross

Chris sent these in with this to say:

They're a few sonnets from a Catholic poetry journal called "Spirit," published in the 1940s through (I think) the 1960s, and which included contributions from a young Thomas Merton and a woman named Helen C. White, who was the first female English professor here at UW-Madison (in fact, the very ugly building that houses the English department is named after her). The sonnets I'm attaching were written by a Jesuit priest named William Donaghy.

I. He Is Condemned

Pilate must heed the public pulse and poll,
As every politician quickly learns,
The multitude that smiles, as quickly spurns,
And so he shrugs his shoulders and his soul;
His fingers flutter in the brazen bowl;
The guilt is off his hands and head; he turns
To take the spotless towel; in him burns
A doubt; but Caesar's favour is his goal.

"Sub Pontio Pilato"--down the years
Before a man may truly live, reborn
Of water and the Holy Ghost, he hears
Caught in the Creed, those words of pitying scorn
For him whose heart was meagre, not malign,
Who used ironic water for a sign.

II. He Carries His Cross

No parable my heart so cruelly cleaves-
The Prodigal among the snorting hogs,
Nor Lazarus doctored by the kindly dogs,
The stranger beaten, stripped and bruised by thieves,
The thorn-torn Shepherd seeking, as he grieves,
Some lost sheep bleating in the briars and bogs-
Sadder to me than all these analogues,
The fruitless fig-tree stands with leathern leaves.

For this is all the kingly city 'gives,
A cursed fig-tree; and a tree of blood
Denuded, ribald, it no longer lives,
Bereft of branches, shorn of bark and bud;
And yet its roots are slumbering, vital still,
At Nagasaki, Tyburn, Auriesville.

III. He Falls

The crowd is thrilled to see a fighter downed,
Battered and bloody, sprawled upon the floor,
Like multitudinous surfs upon the shore
Its shout arises; so the sickening sound
Of splintering wood upon the flinty ground
Brings from this mob a swelling, bestial roar.
What though the fall renewed the wounds and tore
His flesh, and jarred His head so crudely crowned.

These worthy citizens are men of name,
Respectable, judicious, just, discreet;
I cannot bear to have them know my shame-
My brother dying in a public street-
And though I hear our mother's choking sob,
I turn and shout "My brothers!" to the mob.

IV. He Meets His Mother

This afternoon in loud Jerusalem
They meet and part once more; no touch nor kiss
Can ease their anguish; while the mockers hiss:
"And he's the fool who thought his streaming hem
Could cure the woman. See the two of them,
The son and wife of Joseph come to this."
Two hearts cry out-abyss unto abyss,
And Jesse's flower is cut from Jesse's stem.

Perhaps she thinks of Nain-of all the land
Where wonders blossomed as He walked three years;
Of Jairus, Lazarus, the withered hand,
Of flowing mercies and of drying tears;
And still she knows her bitter place and part,
He will not heal her withered, widowed heart.

V. Simon Helps Him

Poor Simon's back was aching, and his legs
Were weary from the kicking of the plough;
And he had many worries-for his sow
Was sick; his prize hen was not laying eggs;
His crops were far behind; and floating dregs
Had spoiled the profit on his vines; and now
As he is hurrying home with heavy brow,
The soldiers seize him, though he brawls and begs.

He burns the Romans with a look of hate,
Then lends his grudging rhews to this doomed Man,
He grasps the rough-hewn beam, but feels no weight,
Though he is straining, taking all he can.
And from the Stranger, down the cross's length
There flow to Simon peace and tranquil strength.

VI. Veronica's Veil

Stout Peter struck one blow with blundering aim,
But now his futile sword abandoned lies;
Tumultuous Thomas shakes his head and sighs,
Beset with doubts and fears, and sick with shame;
The whispering Boanerges mock their name;
But in this shrilling street where valor dies,
Veronica cleans His face and wipes His eyes
And shares forever Magdalen's fragrant fame.

That screaming mob is muted; drowned in blood,
The curse has fallen on those unbent heads;
And Peter's sword has melted into mud,
The Temple veil hangs sundered into shreds;
But still her tiny veil survives, unfurled,
A banner and a bandage for the world.

VII. He Falls Again

It is too much! His watery sinews yield,
He sags and slumps; the wavering cross goes down;
Gethsemane, the night, the lash, the crown- Could one poor heart bear these,
though triple-steeled?
The hard-faced Roman legionaries wield
Their whips to drive Him out beyond the town
Where Calvary rises bushless, burned and brown;
While Judas festers in the Potter's Field.

And still no one remembers; Pharisees
And Scribes are smiling as they watch Him squirm,
Befouled and scoffed at, beaten to His knees,
Exhausted, panting, weaker than a worm.
And Jeremiah's keenings fail and fade,
Isaiah is an echo and a shade.

VIII. He Meets the Women

Last Sunday all Jerusalem had cheered,
But now the hushed hosanna's ringing note
Has soured to snarling in each fickle throat,
And all His followers have disappeared
Except these wailing women, jostJed, jeered,
Unwavering still, like her who sought the groat
And loyal yet, while priests and people gloat-
This is a day of shame for brawn and beard.

Jerusalem, O town of stupid men,
These tears will be your testament; the Lamb
You slaughter will not guard your doorposts when
The tearless Titus sets his battering ram;
Because this Victim vainly dies alone
There shall not be a stone upon a stone.

IX. He Falls the Third Time

They leave the city now; the blood and sweat
Are caked upon Him; and the clustering flies
Are crawling on His blackened wounds; His thighs
Are veined with lire; and now His torturers fret
Lest He may die and thwart them even yet;
For while they watch He stumbles, falls and lies,
Then heaves and struggles weakly to arise
And looks toward Calvary's somber silhouette.

Upon this very road will Godfrey spur,
Leading his knights-a charge of flaming swords-
Against the foemen of the carpenter
Who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords;
His strong voice hurling, like a catapult,
The thunder-breathing war-cry, "Deus vult."

X. He Is Stripped

Through rolling clouds no shaft of sunshine gleams,
A bitter breeze is stirring, sharp and chill,
The crowd sways in, blood-lusty for the kill,
Rough hands rip off the robe which has no seams,
And from reopened wounds the tired blood streams;
He stands among them, without word or will,
A shorn lamb, naked on this stunted hill,
While in the distance Tabor looms and dreams.

There was a man went down to Jericho-
See! parable is prophecy in part-
Here is the victim, scarred from head to toe,
Here are the thieves who have no heed nor heart;
Here are the proud who spurn a broken man,
Levite and priest-but no Samaritan.

XI. He Is Nailed to the Cross

This sound had echoed back in Nazareth,
The thudding hammer on the singing nails,
When Mary hastened off in flying veils,
With eyes like violets, and quickened breath,
Her Babe within her, to Elizabeth.
Now Mary winces, clenches hands, and pales,
Her dauntless spirit cringes, twists and quails,
And at each jolt she dies a double death.

The soldiers need not force Him for He lies
Patient beneath them; as the nails tear through,
His shining prayer is piercing inky skies,
"Forgive them; for they know not what they do."
And even now the arms which they transfix
Would guard them as a mother bird her chicks.

XlI. He Dies

The bleeding hours drag on; His drooping head
Sinks lower; and His parched and swollen lips
Can speak no longer; now a black eclipse
Extinguishes His eyes; the buzzards tread
The air above Him, waiting to be fed.
Once more He shifts on dislocated hips,
And cries aloud; His last vein bursts and drips-
He hangs upon His wooden monstrance, dead.
This is the triumph of the Sanhedrin,
To snare Him with its little traps and tricks,
To make Him scapegoat for all human sin
And build the first immortal crucifix.
Adoring ages, while the Scribes sneer,
Reply, "O Salutaris Ifostia."

XIII. He Is Taken From the Cross

Now you may have Him, Mary, they are done,
The shepherd stricken lies; His little flock
Had fled before the crowing of the cock;
Now Caiphas is happy; he has won;
He does not heed the frightened crowds that run,
Jerusalem is shaken; shock on shock
Llpheave the temple sanctum, rive the rock;
Now you may have the Thing that was your Son.

He cannot hear you, darling, He is dead-
Come, now, and we will hide Him from their sight;
He cannot feel your kisses on His head-
See-Nicodemus waits no more for night.
Look-he and John and Joseph stand in grief
And look to you for refuge and relief.

XIV. He Is Buried

The mourners slowly bring Him through the gloom,
The valiant women, and three faithful men;
Her shoulders shaking, stormy Magdalen
Is weeping as in Simon's dining room;
But she who felt Him moving in her womb,
Who wrapped and laid Him in a manger then
Is still His handmaid, ready once again
To wrap Him up and lay Him in His tomb.

Once Delphi was the navel of the earth,
But now this sepulchre, which blackly yawns,
Becomes the point and center of all worth,
The focus of all sunsets and all dawns;
Within this cavern, could the world but see,
Mythology yields place to mystery.


1 comment:

alaiyo said...

Thanks for posting these!

I found them through Mere Comments.