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:

The Glory

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there. (Luke 23:32-33)

without fanfare, the King of Glory is pinned
with gory force upon the beams of wood.

the people watch with voiceless stares.
the sneering rulers speak their fears.
the soldiers mock with maiming force.

overhead the notice speaks sharp
truth: this is the King of the Jews.

with no apparent human heroism,
His snapping skeleton – bloody body –
hangs heavy as God’s heart becomes a wound
opened wide with welcome for all who wash
their weary selves within its messy flow.

but now He hangs at God’s cross purposes
as holiness and grace collide with fire.
the vulture views the spectacle and waits,
as all earth’s air is drained out of God’s lungs.


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

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.

Countee Cullen, “Simon the Cyrenian Speaks” [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 Countee Cullen’s poem “Simon the Cyrenian Speaks.” Countee Cullen was an American poet and one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance.

He never spoke a word to me,
And yet he called my name.
He never gave a sign to me,
And yet I knew and came.

At first I said, “I will not bear
His cross upon my back—
He only seeks to place it there
Because my skin is black.”

But He was dying for a dream,
And He was very meek;
And in His eyes there shone a gleam
Men journey far to seek.

It was Himself my pity bought;
I did for Christ alone
What all of Rome could not have wrought
With bruise of lash or stone.