Langston Hughes, “The Ballad of Mary’s Son” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I post a poem that I find helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross and the significance of Lent. Here is Langston Hughes’ poem “The Ballad of Mary’s Son” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance and a renowned 20th-century African American poet.


It was in the Spring
The Passover had come.
There was feasting in the streets and joy.
But an awful thing
Happened in the Spring –
Men who knew not what they did1
Killed Mary’s Boy.
He was Mary’s Son,
And the Son of God was He –
Sent to bring the whole world joy.
There were some who could not hear,
And some were filled with fear –
So they built a cross
For Mary’s Boy.


Previous poems in this series:

John Donne, “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness”

John Donne, “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Last year during Lent I posted a poem each week that I have found helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross and the significance of Lent. I enjoyed doing that so much last year that I am returning to that practice again this year with another “Poetry for Lent” series. Every Thursday during Lent, I will post a poem.

This week, as we begin the Lenten journey, here is John Donne’s poem “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness.” John Donne was a poet in 16th and 17th-century England who eventually became a priest and dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Donne is often considered the chief example of English metaphysical poetry.


Since I am coming to that holy room,
         Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
         I tune the instrument here at the door,
         And what I must do then, think here before.

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
         Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
         That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die,

I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
         For, though their currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
         In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
         So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
         The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar,
         All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them,
         Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
         Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
         As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
         May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.

So, in his purple wrapp’d, receive me, Lord;
         By these his thorns, give me his other crown;
And as to others’ souls I preach’d thy word,
         Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:
“Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down.”

The First Day

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.


This is the seventh in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including:

Joseph’s Offering

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus….With Pilate’s permission he came and took the body away. (John 19:38)

as the crowd dispersed
i came to honor Him.
perhaps it was too late…
but the cost was real for me,
as others from the Sanhedrin
turned their dark looks upon me.
our entourage gathered His limp form
with painful effort from the tree
and wrapped it with care.

standing there, at the Executioner’s workplace,
i couldn’t help but think that
He deserved more than this;
that my present actions were a feeble attempt
to cover my earlier inaction.

Jesus, wrapped in linen and death’s shadow,
seemed like a gift Jerusalem
was not worthy to hold.
so we took Him to the tomb,
with the women following close,
and placed Him gently within
for safe-keeping until the day of the Lord.
but my heart ached within me.


This is the sixth in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including:

Denise Levertov, “Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every week during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross. I conclude that series with Denise Levertov’s poem “Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis.” Denise Levertov was a twentieth century poet, born in England and later residing in the United States.

Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
A soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
That He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone who has taken herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
Drifted for mortal moments.


Other poems in the “Poetry for Lent” series are: