new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

Persephone in Winter

They Consider the Crucifixion
Everything unwanted might find favour there —
(Father, forgive us. We knew not what we did.)
Some of us, perhaps, might hazard a guess —
We had put an end to their citadel of defeat,
Silenced their vehement crying in the night,
"Lord, we believe. Help Thou."
(Knowing full well, oh terrible broken voices,
That none can make you whole.)
Was He the first that ever hung on a cross?
Listen: from our childhood, we were born weighted with these,
Weighted with their belief,
Nailed down to bitterness by their belief.
In the sun, our limbs were frozen with their crying,
"Masters, where is the sun?"
And the sun was hidden: our limbs, infected with darkness,
Waited, furious, till the cry should cease
And the light stream down again.
Far back in our story, (far back in any man’s story,)
There lay a golden legend, straight as an arrow
Pointing beyond the hills;
Saying, "Redeemer"; saying, "The promised land";
Saying, "To-morrow."
But the poor do not understand, they won’t understand,
That to-morrow is still to-morrow
After ten thousand years.
For a little, (Nay, friends, we are safe here: we may speak openly,) —
I did not believe this myself.
To-morrow was the crest of a low hill
Between us all, and the untrammelled sunlight.
There, certainly, I would lead them,
Cleanse their sores and their spirit, only in sunlight.
Other men around me bore the same dream in their eyes.
They spoke little, but I smiled, and thought, "You, too —
To-morrow —redeemer — look to the land of promise.
Lo, already the fields are white unto harvest.
O earth, O earth, your savours! —
O host of men, the proud humility
Of your equal table!"

Thus it befell. When I was twenty or so
"Promise" was a wild jest in the mouths of my comrades,
Of all words spattered, defiled, the most defiled.
"Promise, Paulus — what have you promised the people,
The brown face with the sore eyes, the swirling market-square face,
To drop in its open mouth?
What hills and what valleys, what grotesque regency
Over terrors, what soft velvet for naked shanks,
What bouquet for stench, have you promised them to-day?"
("Lord, we believe. Help thou." Ever so.
It was the help that mattered, not the belief.
Open mouths, open hearts, open sores. Ever belief
From the beginning of Time. Never the help.
Moses never came out from the wilderness.
That was the myth.)
"Promise." We lifted our goblets, one to another,
Jesting of what we had promised,
Not meeting our neighbour’s eyes.
We knew how it was: each one, as he stood and shouted,
Feigning to draw apart the robe of his scorn
From a human breast, dropping into the open mouth
Promise on promise — each one, if but for an instant,
Forgot he was lying. Our voices, hoarse with the knowledge
Of inner laughter admitting the old deceits,
Rang out clearly. The wavering voices, the wounds,
They were ours, our beloved, our people.
Gold on the golden roof-tops lay bared the light.
We balanced its powerful sword. It was not too heavy.
"Children, I will lead you into the promised land
To-morrow — only to-morrow."
And the sightless murmur ripened and swelled among them,
The grain of that harvest no man has dared to reap,
The harvest of human love.
"Children, this is my promise:
To-morrow, I lead you into the promised land."
"Lord, we believe. Help thou."
(Too well we knew, O terrible broken voices,
No man can make you whole.)

Was He the first that ever hung on the cross?
Let me tell you, Sirs, of a young friend of mine,
A good lad, none of your humbugs, none of your mealy-mouthed
Easy world-lovers.
He rode well: but the weight of their dull belief
Dragged at his stirrup.
I have seen him one wet evening, walk behind a crippled woman,
With his hands stretched out a little (no, she did not see him),
Not touching her, not grasping, only stretching those useless hands
Towards her, through the infinite wastes of misapprehension.
Muttering "Be whole . . . be whole . . ." But she lurched on
Always a little in front. It seemed she walked
Lamer than ever. Louder his voice, "Be whole! . . ."
He was no Christ, rewarded by success.
People stared and whispered. I touched his shoulder.
"Come away, old man." White drunken face
Staring into the lamplight. "Be whole — be whole . . ."
I tell you, he was a good boy. He sat at my table
Many a time.

There was a night at last, hollowed by lustre
In the great cliff of the dark.
People dwelling there, savage, warm, unmindful,
Drawn together, because the rain beat down
Like fear, and the cliff was tall.
I could have played it, a symphony in black and gold.
That boy, full in the lamplight,
Saw a man, some old wastrel,
Leaning over the face of a child, his son.
As my friend passed by, some cursed chance must have it
Both of them smiled at him,
A smile irradiating the whole darkness
With as much calm, as pure a confidence
As if that conquered all.
(Wert Thou the first who ever hung on the cross?)
The boy gasped, struck to the heart. I think he saw
The tiny limbs hard gripped by iron fetters,
By endless fetters — poverty one fetter,
Even their innocence their heaviest fetter.
He came home, alone. He wrote some frantic, scrawling words
I half deciphered. "Never mind me. The child . . .
Don’t think of me, think about saving the child."
The servants found him, with the little Phoenician dagger
Up to its haft in his neck.

Forty years at last. We were used to saying coldly
Of the lame, "They are the lame." Of the poor, "These men are poor."
Of the lepers, "Yes, of course, those are the lepers."
It was done, we could not undo it. We took a certain pride
In walking straitly, with lifted head and unmoved brow.
And we found reasons for our God —
So many reasons, some of them must have been valid,
At least in law.
There was a pattering noise along a dusty street,
The feet of children, the feet of the little milk-white ass.
Close flower-buds falling, heavy as though the summer wept
Green tears of pleasure. No more. He was gone by.
A lame man plucked at my elbow, capering insolently.
"See, master, I can run — I can run."
A man I had known for years, never suspected,
Whiter than noonday stared into my face.
"I am clean, I am clean. I am no more a leper."
And a wind like a flail beat down on the gathered faces,
Shouting, "It is to-morrow."
Brown and gold as the dusky corn, those harvested faces.
We are only human, that’s what Christ forgot,
Or wouldn’t learn.
There was half a thought, at first, that when they had finished —
Those slender, seeking fingers — with the blinded eyes,
The broken bodies, the mere decay of flesh,
They might win to us:
Win to the wounded places in the proud heart,
Deepest our hurt, and frantic at the last.
"Lord, we believe. Help Thou."
(Knowing full well, O terrible even voices,
That none can make us whole.)

We are only human. And the cancer of pride
Eats so endlessly into the shuttered breast —
And in all those shouting voices, never a one
Saying "Master, let me aid you."
Saying, "Master, step down to Bethesda."

They say that He will rise again
In three days, my old friends — or perhaps To-morrow.


Last updated 24 September, 2003