Canticle for Good Friday : Geoffrey Hill

 

Bouguereau : Pieta

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 HillHill 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,

Watched

Smelt vinegar and blood.  He

As yet unsearched, unscratched,

 

And suffered to remain

At such near distance

(A slight miracle might cleanse

His brain

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).

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4 thoughts on “Canticle for Good Friday : Geoffrey Hill

    • I originally came across GH because I went to a few of his lectures when I was a student – he’s an academic as well as a poet. Can be hard work, but worth the effort, I think. I believe he’s in the running for the Poetry Chair at Oxford – worth ten bob each way, I’d say.

      More info here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Hill

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