Questions for a Picture

Who are these coming to the sacrifice? Keats

Beyond a lintel of cold marble, breathing,
Who are these figures on the other side,
Their golden flesh emerging from the dark?

Ages and stages of our passing life,
Con-centred on the mystery of birth?

The Virgin, the Wise-Woman, Mother, Father,
Lover, Brother, Magus, gathered here
And a little child to lead them…
Or is this Child the parent of them all?

Once-woven in the womb, now wrapped in bands,
White linen for the grave, linen for swaddling,
Through which our holy flesh already shines…

Does she receive Him from the hands of Wisdom,
Or pass Him softly to the hands of Death?

5 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, Meditation

5 responses to “Questions for a Picture

  1. Julia Bolton Holloway

    Magnificent/Magnificat
    Don Bernardo Gianni has just conducted the funeral of our beloved mediaeval professor, Claudio Leonardi (who published my Julian of Norwich), and it ended with the Olivetan monks singing the ‘Magnificat’ as they processed up the stairs from the altar in San Miniato a Monte. That and your poem remind me of e.e. cummings:
    honour corruption villainy holiness
    riding in fragrance of sunlight (side by side
    all in a singing wonder of blossoming yes
    riding) to him who died that death should be dead

    humblest and proudest eagerly wandering
    (equally all alife in miraculous day)
    Merrily moving through sweet forgiveness of spring
    (over the under the gift of the sky

    Knight and ploughman pardoner wife and nun
    Merchant frère clerk somnour miller and reve
    And Geoffrey and all) come up from the never of when
    Come into the now of forever come riding alive
    Down while crylessly drifting through vast most
    Nothing’s own nothing children go of dust.

  2. I like how it plays on Keats’ elusive eternal moment: this painting not as capturing, but as seeing in history, one who did live, and die, for us. One who yet *is*. Alive, ‘God with us’ (the ‘Let There Be’ “Through which our holy flesh already shines”).

    ***
    “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
    “John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me…'”

  3. Profound and moving, Malcolm. Thank you. I especially like the ambiguity of the word ‘breathing’ in the opening line, as well as all the wondering. In His Love, Ruan

  4. JD

    I like the concept of ‘poeming out’ a picture. Wonderful. Thanks

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