Judas Iscariot [poem by Menie Parkes]

[Editor: This poem by Menie Parkes was published in Poems (1867).]

Judas Iscariot.

Away! away! away! Oh, hide me, rocks!
Yet no, for where I am there is myself,
My sternest torturer; and falling stones
Would only crush me closer into me,
And force a nearer face-to-face with my
Own sin-delirious heart. Oh, my heart! —
Thou clotted, stagnant torment of my frame! —
Beating with such dumb, steady, earnest pain,
Yet shrinking from Death’s furious strokes at Life —
Thou wast so pure once, wast so rosy-flushed
With hues of health! Who is there that has seen
The large eyes of a brooding dove? So soft,
So quick, so meekly bright mine once were too:
Now, chain the wounded vulture on his perch,
And taunt him with your jibing blows, and like
The anguished, wild, defiant glance he casts,
Is mine habitually. Who marks the olive,
With its deep, sweet, murmurous swell of song,
That ripples low or high in unison
With some mysterious breeze that bears
An unknown message from the realm of stars?
So was my voice in infancy, which ever loved to bear,
And still repeat, and still repeat again,
The glad, sad, solemn words of that strange child,
Our playmate-king, Jesus the Nazarene:
Now, ask of the loudest peal of thunder;
Now, ask of the maddest rush of sirocco;
Now, ask of the wildest torrent shrieking;
Now, ask the voice of a curbless fire, —

“What seemeth the voice of Iscariot to ye?”
Hark! Thunder and tempest, and torrent and fire
Cease for a moment their chorus of ire,
But shriek — as again it mounts higher and higher —
“We are not, we cannot be, maddened as he,
For we follow the track of the finger of God;
But he stands in His path, as yon grand old tree
That groans, in its impotent wrath at our might,
But will fall from our path ere the coming of light:
As that tree shall fall, so Judas shall falter
Down, both, down, down, both, down, down, down —”

Cease, from your prophecy, Nature, cease,
though true is your shrieking doom. I am man.
Bring your accusing voices; I face them
In manhood’s full majesty now. Speak, then;
I have murdered the Master? Well, yes, true;
Will’t atone if I murder myself then?
Little grass-plant, how camest thou dyed that red hue?
Did a drop from His head fall on thee, too?
Was it that which so freshened thee, leaflet?
Judas shall die? Why, that is a blessing!
A dog’s death? Be it: then there’s forgetting.

* * * * *

“Betrayest thou me with a kiss?” Oh, words,
How ye stabbed me! I would I had smote him.
Sure, the crime were less, in the Judge’s eyes,
Than to sting His pure cheek with a lip like mine.
Smoke to a lily, or charcoal to snow,
Blood to the fountain, or fire on the sky,
Were meeter than kiss of mine on the cheek
Of Christ — sin shaken in the blanching face
Of a loathing but self-helpless God.
Spear me, ye loving sorrow-conscious eyes!
Haunt me, low remonstrating tones of love!
Be ever with me, agonising thought
Of a meek Godhead bowed beneath a cross,
And plunge me — drown me — in remorse.

“Look thou to it!” they said, the Pharisees,
Whose bordered robes and broad phylacteries,
And hoary foreheads, should have marked them mild.
Then they were just: on me rests all the crime
Of slaying Godhead. Fool! how dared I doubt
His Godliness, who proved it in the eyes
Of haughty Pilate, bidding him tremble
While he asked in fear “And what is truth?”
I look to it, and wait a heavy doom.

Yonder’s the Cross, and my steps tend to it —
When missed a sinner sight of saint in woe? —
He this way passed:— what pricks me? Ah, that crown!
Fit my brows? No, too small. The holy thorns
Having learnt the contact of purity now,
Shrink from the fire of a murderer’s brow.

Behold, behold, they raise Him! I will see no more.
Betrayéd Master, how I loved thee once!
I loved thee, loved thee; nay, I love thee now;
I love thee, love thee, love thee, love thee,
Hopeless of all but wrath I love thee,
Victim of my Satanic avarice!
They raise Him! Hark, the sound of driving nails!
Oh, shuddering world! I’ll see — I’ll hear, no more!

He turned, that wretched deicide, and fled,
And strangled life out on the nearest branch,
With one wild hopeless shriek up to the face
Of God, for blest annihilation.



Source:
Menie Parkes, Poems, F. Cunninghame, Sydney, [1867], pages 42-44

Editor’s notes:
deicide = the killing of a god, or someone who kills a god

hoary = someone with grey or white hair; very old

meeter = [there are three archaic meanings of “meet”: “having the proper dimensions; made to fit”, “suitable, fit, proper” and “mild, gentle”] [see: James A. H. Murray (editor), A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society, volume 6, part 2, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1908, page 304]

phylactery = a small leather box, containing slips of parchment with passages from the Hebrew scriptures written on them; as part of the observance of traditional Jewish prayers, two phylacteries are worn by Jewish men for morning prayers, one on the left arm and the other on the forehead

[Editor: Corrected “ever with” to “ever with me”, with regard to the “Errata” corrections.]

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