Denise Levertov on Julian and Good Friday

Excerpt from On a Theme from Julian’s Chapter XX by Denise Levertov:

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes,

hot wood, the nails, blood trickling

into the eyes, yes —

but the thieves on their neighbor crosses

survived till after the soldiers

had come to fracture their legs, or longer.

Why single out the agony? What’s

a mere six hours?

Torture then, torture now,

the same, the pain’s the same,

immemorial branding iron,

electric prod.

Hasn’t a child

dazed in the hospital ward they reserve

for the most abused, known worse?

The air we’re breathing,

these very clouds, ephemeral billows

languid upon the sky’s

moody ocean, we share

with women and men who’ve held out

days and weeks on the rack —

and in the ancient dust of the world

what particles

of the long tormented,

what ashes.

But Julian’s lucid spirit leapt

to the difference:

perceived why no awe could measure

that brief day’s endless length,

why among all the tortured

One only is “King of Grief.”

The oneing, she saw, the oneing

with the Godhead opened him utterly

to the pain of all minds, all bodies

— sands of the sea, of the desert —

from first beginning

to last day. The great wonder is

that the human cells of His flesh and bone

didn’t explode

when utmost imagination rose

in that flood of knowledge. Unique

in agony, Infinite strength, Incarnate,

empowered Him to endure

inside of history,

through those hours when he took to Himself

the sum total of anguish and drank

even the lees of that cup:

within the mesh of the web, Himself

woven within it, yet seeing it,

seeing it whole. Every sorrow and desolation

He saw, and sorrowed in kinship.

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