"Regained excels kept"
Matthew Boudway April 1, 2013 - 7:02am
From the Commonweal archives: Les Murrays great Easter poem, published in the issue dated March 26, 1993.
The Say-but-the-Word Centurion Attempts a Summary
That numinous healer who preached Saturnalia and paradox
has died a slaves death. We were maneuvered into it by priests
and by the man himself. To complete his poem.
He was certainly dead. The pilum guaranteed it. His message,
unwritten except on his body, like anyones, was wrapped
like a scroll and dispatched to our liberated selves, the gods.
If he has now risen, as our infiltrators gibber,
he has outdone Orpheus, who went alive to the Shades.
Solitude may be stronger than embraces. Inventor of the mustard tree,
he mourned one death, perhaps all, before he reversed it.
He forgave the sick to health, disregarded the sex of the Furies
when expelling them from minds. And he never speculated.
If he is risen, all are children of a most high real God
or something even stranger called by that name
who knew to come and be punished for the world.
To have knowledge of right, after that, is to be in the wrong.
Death came through the sight of law. His peoples oldest wisdom.
If death is now the birth-gate into things unsayable
in language of deaths era, there will be wars about religion
as there never were about the death-ignoring Olympians.
Love, too, his new universal, so far ahead of you it has died
for you before you meet it, may seem colder than the favors of gods
who are our poems, good and bad. But there never was a bad baby.
Half of his worship will be grinding his face in the dirt
then lilting it up to beg, in private. The low will rule, and curse by him.
Divine bastard, soul-usurer, eros-frightener, he is out to monopolize hatred.
Whole philosophies will be devised for their brief snubbings of him.
But regained excels kept, he taught. Thus he has done the impossible
to show us it is there. To ask it of us. It seems we are to be the poem
and live the impossible. As each time we have, with mixed cries.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.