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National Poetry Month, Good Friday poems

Tulip Tree
Tulip Tree
Catherine Al-Meten

Good Friday, perhaps the most solemn day on the Christian liturgical calendar, reminds us all to pause and reflect upon how suffering, oppression, and tyranny can affect all of humankind. Blind faith and religious intolerance, both fans that stir the flames of zealotry, overlook the power of Love to overcome. These poems written about Good Friday, the day that commemorates Christ Jesus' crucifixion, are but some of the poems written to express some of the diverse feelings about this act that left a lasting impression on the world.

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward

by John Donne

LET man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,

Th’ intelligence that moves, devotion is;

And as the other spheres, by being grown

Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a year their natural form obey;

Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit

For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,

This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.

There I should see a Sun by rising set,

And by that setting endless day beget.

But that Christ on His cross

did rise and fall,

Sin had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see

That spectacle of too much weight for me.

Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,

It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.

Could I behold those hands, which span the poles

And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?

Could I behold that endless height, which is

Zenith to us and our antipodes,

Humbled below us? or that blood, which is

The seat of all our souls, if not of His,

Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn

By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?

If on these things I durst not look, durst I

On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,

Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus

Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us?

Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,

They’re present yet unto my memory,

For that looks towards them; and Thou look’st towards me,

O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.

I turn my back to Thee but to receive

Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.

O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,

Burn off my rust, and my deformity;

Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,

That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.

All in an April Evening by Katharine Tynan

All in the April morning,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Pass'd me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass'd me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry,
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet:
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

But for the Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green,
Only a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

The Carpenter’s Son

by A.E. Houseman

“Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

“Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

“Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.

“Now, you see,

they hang me high,

And the people passing by

Stop to shake their fists and curse;

So ’tis come from ill to worse.

“Here hang I, and right and left

Two poor fellows hang for theft:

All the same’s the luck we prove,

Though the midmost hangs for love.

“Comrades all, that stand and gaze,

Walk henceforth in other ways;

See my neck and save your own:

Comrades all, leave ill alone.

“Make some day a decent end,

Shrewder fellows than your friend.

Fare you well, for ill fare I:

Live lads, and I will die.”

Moriah’s Song

by Theresa Roberts Johnson

Strong, obedient, perfect ram,

Led by the God of Abraham

Up Moriah’s lonely hill

To fulfill His holy will.
Abraham was led here too,

With the wood that he did hew

Carried by his only son,

And other offering there was none.
“Behold the wood, behold the fire,

But where’s the lamb that we require?”

“God will provide, my precious child.

So on they walked into the wild.
The altar built, the child lay down;

From heaven came a welcome sound.

“Stay your hand, O faithful one

Who did not spare your only son.”
Just then the ram bowed down its head,

Prepared to die in Isaac’s stead.

Lift your eyes, behold the Lamb,

The perfect One, the Great I Am.

And for those of us who know what it must have felt like for Maria/Mary to stand at the foot of the cross and watch her Son’s crucifixion:

“This child is like a pearl,

Some men will forfeit everything

To have his love, while others cling

To worthless things and forfeit life.

He is a source of peace—and strife.

And many thoughts he will reveal

That men have thought they could conceal.

And you, most blessed woman too,

Will see what wicked men can do.

Your love to him will take its toll,

And like a sword will pierce your soul.” 
from John Piper in “Simeon“

Older than eternity, now he

is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed

to my poor planet, caught

that I might be free, blind in my womb

to know my darkness ended,

brought to this birth for me to be new-born,

and for him to see me mended

I must see him torn.

from “Accompanied by Angels” by Luci Shaw)

The God of curved space,

the dry

God, is not going to help us, but the son

whose blood splattered

the hem of his mother’s robe.

(from “Looking at Stars” by Jane Kenyon)

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