Friday, July 22, 2011

The Grief of Gethsemane

This is an old, old poem...I wrote it in 2000. It was my first experiment with the Rhyme Royal form, created by Chaucer. It is also a meditation on Christ's moment of doubt in Gethsemane, which has always been for me the most fascinating part of the Bible...being the moment in the story when he seems most human.


The Grief of Gethsemane

Ego non sum ille

I.
As even falls, this hillside garden’s boughs
And newborn scents cannot eliminate
Dejection’s hold. The moon still keeps her vows,
And sailing heaven, guides the tides of fate.
Seductive maiden, prancing ’round her mate,
Stays chaste to tease him, mocking me as well.
Unfaithful world, your joys become my hell.

II.
The outer darkness, seeming more than night,
Like stinking pitch upon my sweat-slick skin,
Prohibits acting on these thoughts of flight
From what shall be: there is a strength within
Enduring all, even defeat, to win.
Upon these narrow shoulders shall I bear
The curse of millions, for none other dare.

III.
But could this moment somehow pass me by
And loose the shackles binding me to grief,
Would I choose life whilst knowing all must die?
Too bittersweet ’twould be to give relief.
Can love of self o’erpower my belief?
The end (the choice as well?) can never change
(And thereby grows this melancholy strange).

IV.
Alas! Alas! The dying breeze explains
In soft and somber sighs, “You are alone
To fight your fears so that no doubt remains
In what must be” (and this I’ve always known).
The midnight sky reveals, as etched in stone,
My path below the wandering stars and spheres,
The cross I’ll bear and water with my tears.

V.
In sufferance my greater purpose served
To all mankind, though they be hard of heart.
The cup of wine, wherein my life’s preserved
(Together with the bread I broke apart
Between my hands), shall by my love impart
The very thing that I am soon to lose;
The cup must fill, and I cannot refuse.

VI.
For one must come to humbly face his death,
Forever called the Son of Man (and God,
So ancient stories say); ere he drew breath
As mortal man, he once with angels trod
And led them kindly with a shepherd’s rod.
But is he me? Is all that I intend
A grand illusion, or a promised end?

VII.
Thrown flat to plead upon a cold dirt bed
That warms again once golden dawn breaks through,
I’m shown my triumph, though my blood’s been shed.
Then, like the Earth, my life will stir anew
(I must believe, if all I see is true!);
And high above the weeping stars unfold
Their painful lesson, as to children told.

VIII.
You children! Dozing as on summer eves
While one amongst you, with a serpent’s hiss,
Betrays for gain (but only loss receives).
Now all I’ve said and done must come to this:
In torchlight smiling, damning with a kiss,
He’ll greet me, “Rabbi!” with his serpent’s guile;
Yet as he does, I love him all the while.

IX.
I’m bound to serve, but can’t a servant feel?
His labor done, tomorrow comes anew.
Thus all he does, he does with lack of zeal
Because he must; and ’tis a pure fool who
Will greet his master with a rosy hue
Upon his cheeks, to have it beaten down.
Where are his robes, where his triumphant crown?

X.
A crown! By God so great a crown I’ll wear,
As would a king upon this hallowed throne
Of sticks and skulls, betwixt a stately pair.
This gracious court, they praise one king alone
In harmony: “Thou hast become our own
Anointed ruler!” (yet he inward mourns);
A dying king…mine is a crown of thorns.

XI.
To hang, not far beyond the morning’s prime,
Till noon draws near; and then the midday’s heat
Gives way to night, come long before its time
To wrap the land in seething dark complete.
Grim Death will ride to where these crossroads meet,
His sneering visage taunting from below
And telling stories none in life may know.

XII.
My body, raised upon a splintered pole,
Must face its beatings, stand a whipping gale
That churns the heavens as it steals the soul.
And “Desolation!” is the constant wail
It screams to torment while the temple veil
Is torn asunder, while the trembling Earth
Laments the shrieks of this demonic birth.

XIII.
The premonition of this frightful day
Has one last scene that may usurp the laws
Of sanity and lead my mind away:
At last the Presence from the shrine withdraws
And guarding cherubs stand on shattered paws
Before they topple from the mercy seat,
Now fallen idols of a vain conceit.

XIV.
The vision ends: on silent trees I gaze.
What power makes them strive to touch the sun?
What force compels them from the seed to raise?
No answers come; but once my deeds are done
I pray this knowledge be unknown to none.
Within those leaves that hidden secret lies;
Although it slays, a tree shall see me rise!

XV.
This moonlit garden, mute, still teaches me
About true love, a love surpassing pain.
The soft wind sighs her subtle melody
To calm my fears: no thoughts of self remain.
This garden’s grief does budding life sustain,
The bloom of Love. Dear God, I’ve chosen well:
For you, O man, thus shall I conquer hell…

XVI.
…No savior, dying to redeem a race,
My life is not a myth of guilt and fear.
My strength to overcome, no gift of grace,
May fade at times, but never disappear.
Although my tale may close to his appear,
There’s no messiah in the mirror’s glass:
This flight of fancy, like the pain, will pass.