“The Carpenter’s Son”, two poems… two visions, Sara Teasdale and A.E. Houseman

Kreuzigung von Gabriel Wüger, Andachtsbildchen auf dem Vorsatzblatt der Ausgabe des Schott-Messbuchs von 1952

“The soul of the artist cannot remain hidden.”  Henri Nouwen



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Many people are honoring Good Friday today, a day considered holy by some and that you likely know even if you are not Christian. These two poems are offered without judgement or analyses, simply as an example of different responses by poets of the same era to a moment marked by history. One poem is from American lyric poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The second poem is from English poet and classical scholar, A.E. Housman (1889-1936). It is generally agreed that atheist Housman’s poem is a reference to Jesus’ and his death. Sara Teasdale was raised in a devote Baptist family.

The Carpenter’s Son

The summer dawn came over-soon,
The earth was like hot iron at noon
In Nazareth;
There fell no rain to ease the heat,
And dusk drew on with tired feet
And stifled breath.

The shop was low and hot and square,
And fresh-cut wood made sharp the air,
While all day long
The saw went tearing thru the oak
That moaned as tho’ the tree’s heart broke
Beneath its wrong.

The narrow street was full of cries,
Of bickering and snarling lies
In many keys—
The tongues of Egypt and of Rome
And lands beyond the shifting foam
Of windy seas.

Sometimes a ruler riding fast
Scattered the dark crowds as he passed,
And drove them close
In doorways, drawing broken breath
Lest they be trampled to their death
Where the dust rose.

There in the gathering night and noise
A group of Galilean boys
Crowding to see
Gray Joseph toiling with his son,
Saw Jesus, when the task was done,
Turn wearily.

He passed them by with hurried tread
Silently, nor raised his head,
He who looked up
Drinking all beauty from his birth
Out of the heaven and the earth
As from a cup.

And Mary, who was growing old,
Knew that the pottage would be cold
When he returned;
He hungered only for the night,
And westward, bending sharp and bright,
The thin moon burned.

He reached the open western gate
Where whining halt and ***** wait,
And came at last
To the blue desert, where the deep
Great seas of twilight lay asleep,
Windless and vast.

With shining eyes the stars awoke,
The dew lay heavy on his cloak,
The world was dim;
And in the stillness he could hear
His secret thoughts draw very near
And call to him.

Faint voices lifted shrill with pain
And multitudinous as rain;
From all the lands
And all the villages thereof
Men crying for the gift of love
With outstretched hands.

Voices that called with ceaseless crying,
The broken and the blind, the dying,
And those grown dumb
Beneath oppression, and he heard
Upon their lips a single word,
“Come!”

Their cries engulfed him like the night,
The moon put out her placid light
And black and low
Nearer the heavy thunder drew,
Hushing the voices . . . yet he knew
That he would go.

A quick-spun thread of lightning burns,
And for a flash the day returns—
He only hears
Joseph, an old man bent and white
Toiling alone from morn till night
Thru all the years.

Swift clouds make all the heavens blind,
A storm is running on the wind—
He only sees
How Mary will stretch out her hands
Sobbing, who never understands
Voices like these.

– Sara Teasdale

The Carpenter’s Son

Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.

Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.

Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.

Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live lads, and I will die.

– A. E. Housman

Good Friday illustration is in the public domain


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