We’re Dead Without the Poets

I don’t feel like talking about Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, but it seems He is on Emily’s mind. Here we go:

#567, c. 1862

He gave away his Life —
To Us — Gigantic Sum —
A trifle — in his own esteem —
But magnified — by Fame —

Until it burst the Hearts
That fancied they could hold —
When swift it slipped its limit —
And on the Heavens — unrolled —

‘Tis Ours — to wince — and weep —
And wonder — and decay
By Blossoms gradual process —
He chose — Maturity —

And quickening — as we sowed —
Just obviated Bud —
And when We turned to note the Growth —
Broke — perfect — from the Pod —

I’m going to treat the Christ story as just that, a story. Not to diminish it—you know me, I live and die by the story. It’s important to establish that the Judeo-Christian mythology has guided the development of western civilization so deeply and thoroughly that even the most devout atheist among us cannot extirpate this religiosity from her thinking. Our brains are saturated with this story such that it goes below conscious thinking. We can’t discern its influence any more than the fish can discern the water it swims in.

Emily is getting at this idea when she writes “magnified — by Fame”. What a funny word to use with reference to Christ’s crucifixion, as if he were a rock star, which of course he is. But what did Emily know of fame or rock stars? I think she was zeroing in on the point that all of us—whether human or blossom—live, decay and die. The difference in the Christ story is that his death is a story that people read and know about. The elevation of his death into a mediated event, an observed death, is the thing that makes Him into a character in a story, not a man.

Of course, the most crucial part of the story is that his death is a conscious one. An intentional embrace of the darkest mystery. This is his “Maturity”. Those of us who are not characters in a story, cloaked in fame, we are the wondering weepers, perplexed by death. So we tell ourselves a story about a man who conquered death by giving away his life willingly, with full awareness and trust in the God who made him.

I keep tripping over her inclusion of the word “Fame”. It sticks out as an awfully worldly concern. The word points to her understanding that his death is only meaningful—only what we say it is—if the world knows about it. Only if the death becomes famous, does it take on the force and meaning that we claim it possesses inherently. Really his death ought not to be be anymore meaningful than the decay of the flower. Unless someone witnesses the death and—here is the most important part—records the death, it effectively has no more significance than any other death.

There must be a scribe present to make Christ’s death the sacrifice that it is. Without the intelligent, crafty, and imaginative mind of the viewer (no the Writer!) as a witness to the death, there is no meaning. No gift. No emotional charge to flood our hearts, change our lives. “And on the Heavens — unrolled —”

It wasn’t God that gave Christ (or any of us) eternal life. It was the poet who wrote about him.

Without the witness to tell the story, there is no spiritual pay-off for us, no promise of new life. Nothing to prompt us to continue looking for new growth, that perfect bud that emerges or reemerges from the cave, from the pod, whatever.

Anyway people always want to give Christ the credit for the magic show. Emily quite rightly gives kudos to the writers. As we will see in tomorrow’s poem, which lies on the facing page from this one. I can’t resist a hop across the crevice. Check in later.

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