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.”

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:

James Weldon Johnson, “The Crucifixion” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross. Here is James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “The Crucifixion,” from God’s TrombonesJames Weldon Johnson was a twentieth century American  poet and civil rights activist, perhaps best known for co-authoring (with his brother) the well-known song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the black national anthem.

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden –
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul –
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

Jesus, my burdened Jesus,
Praying in the dark of the Garden –
The Garden of Gethsemane.
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
This bitter cup,
This bitter cup,
Let it pass from me.

Jesus, my sorrowing Jesus,
The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow,
Talking with his Father,
While the three disciples slept,
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
Not as I will,
Not as I will,
But let thy will be done.

Oh, look at black-hearted Judas –
Sneaking through the dark of the Garden –
Leading his crucifying mob.
Oh, God!
Strike him down!
Why don’t you strike him down,
Before he plants his traitor’s kiss
Upon my Jesus’ cheek?

And they take my blameless Jesus,
And they drag him to the Governor,
To the mighty Roman Governor.
Great Pilate seated in his hall, –
Said: In this man I find no fault.
I find no fault in him.
And Pilate washed his hands.
But they cried out, saying:
Crucify him! –
Crucify him! –
Crucify him! –
His blood be on our heads.
And they beat my loving Jesus,
They spit on my precious Jesus;
They dressed him up in a purple robe,
They put a crown of thorns upon his head,
And they pressed it down –
Oh, they pressed it down –
And they mocked my sweet King Jesus.

Up Golgotha’s rugged road
I see my Jesus go.
I see him sink beneath the load,
I see my drooping Jesus sink.
And then they laid hold on Simon,
Black Simon, yes, black Simon,
And Simon bore the cross.

On Calvary, on Calvary,
They crucified my Jesus.
They nailed him to the cruel tree,
And the hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem’s streets.
The hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem’s streets.

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.
Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Mary,
Weeping Mary,
Sees her poor little Jesus on the cross.
Mary,
Weeping Mary,
Sees her sweet, baby Jesus on the cruel cross,
Hanging between two thieves.

And Jesus, my lonesome Jesus,
Called out once more to his Father,
Saying:
My God,
My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me?
And he drooped his head and died.

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
And unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!
When my blessed Jesus died.

Oh, I tremble, yes, I tremble,
It causes me to tremble, tremble,
When I think how Jesus died;
Died on the steeps of Calvary,
How Jesus died for sinners,
Sinners like you and me.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Peace” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross. Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Peace.” Gerard Manley Hopkins was a twentieth century British poet and Jesuit priest, whose work became widely known after his death.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.