There are surprisingly few poems in English about Good Friday. The resurrection as an abstraction is easy enough to assimilate to the way in which we generally think of Easter – the return of life to the earth, as popularly represented by bunnies, eggs and chicks. The physical event of the human sacrifice required to bring about this resurrection is harder to come to terms with. I doubt that the crucifixion has ever – since the reformation at any rate – entered the popular consciousness of the English in the way that it has in Catholic countries. We prefer our crucifixes to be restrained, discreet and bloodless: they rarely intrude into our homes.
Here, though, is a poem for Good Friday, by Geoffrey Hill. Hill is at the same time profoundly English – indeed claggily Mercian – and Latinate in his sensibility. The poem is, I think (I could be wrong), told from the point of view of the Apostle “Doubting” Thomas.
CANTICLE FOR GOOD FRIDAY
The cross staggered him. At the cliff-top
Thomas, beneath its burden, stood
While the dulled wood
Spat on the stones each drop
Of deliberate blood.
A clamping, cold-figured day
Thomas (not transfigured) stamped, crouched,
Smelt vinegar and blood. He
As yet unsearched, unscratched,
And suffered to remain
At such near distance
(A slight miracle might cleanse
Of all attachments, claw-roots of sense)
In unaccountable darkness moved away,
The strange flesh untouched, carion-sustenance
Of staunchest love, choicest defiance,
Creation’s issue congealing (and one woman’s).