From the Commonweal archives: Les Murray's great Easter poem, published in the issue dated March 26, 1993.




That numinous healer who preached Saturnalia and paradox

has died a slave's 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 anyone's, 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 people's oldest wisdom.

If death is now the birth-gate into things unsayable


in language of death's 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.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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