Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday from the Poets

It’s a confluence of riches, thinking about poetry during Holy Week.

Oscar Wilde, the poet's poet,  imagines the week in Genoa, that ill-fated city where the faulty vessel that carried Shelley to his watery death was built. And in honor of Maundy Thursday—the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist—Wilfred Owen, the great World War One poet. His take on the custom of kissing a crucifix has a reveal that underscores the humanness behind all ritual. Owen was shot and killed on the battlefield in France one week before the WW1 Armistice. He was 25 years old. And via PoemHunter, Rilke's stunning poem on seeing Da Vinci's Last Supper.

Holy Week at Genoa
Oscar Wilde

I wandered through Scoglietto's far retreat,
The oranges on each o'erhanging spray
Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day;
Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet
Made snow of all the blossoms; at my feet
Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:
And the curved waves that streaked the great green bay
Laughed i' the sun, and life seemed very sweet.

Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,
'Jesus the son of Mary has been slain,
O come and fill His sepulchre with flowers.'
Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours
Had drowned all memory of Thy bitter pain,
The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers and the Spear.

Maundy Thursday
Wilfred Owen

Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)

Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)

Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed - my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

The Last Supper
Rainer Maria Rilke

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, Milan 1904.]


kathleenmaher said...

The poems read so beautifully together: I never would have guessed.
Again, we will miss you singing, M.A. We're going to Montana for Easter.
With luck, I should be back to read your responses to National Poetry Month.

M.A.Peel said...

Kathleen, Montana sounds wonderful. Have a great time.