Just Because I Like It

Some lines that seem appropriate for a cold and snowy day…

‘Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot,
Strange, and sad, and tall,
Stood all alone at dead of night
Before a lighted hall.

And the wold was white with snow,
And his foot-marks black and damp,
And the ghost of the silvern Moon arose,
Holding her yellow lamp.

And the icicles were on the eaves,
And the walls were deep with white,
And the shadows of the guests within
Pass’d on the window light.

The shadows of the wedding guests
Did strangely come and go,
And the body of Judas Iscariot
Lay stretch’d along the snow.

The body of Judas Iscariot
Lay stretched along the snow;
‘Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Ran swiftly to and fro.

To and fro, and up and down,
He ran so swiftly there,
As round and round the frozen Pole
Glideth the lean white bear.

‘Twas the Bridegroom sat at the table-head,
And the lights burnt bright and clear —
‘Oh, who is that,’ the Bridegroom said,
‘Whose weary feet I hear?’

The complete poem is here.

Not being a Victorian, some of the words are unfamiliar, and not being a Christian, I’m not sure I understand all the symbolism…but what a vivid, beautiful, powerful poem.

4 thoughts on “Just Because I Like It”

  1. David, that brought tears to my eyes. Very beautiful. I have never heard of this poem before.

    The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ, the feast is Heaven, Judas who betrayed Christ, after suffering for his sins, is forgiven and admitted to Heaven. Not sure how doctrinally sound it is, but the image of the all-forgiving Jesus forgiving Judas is very touching. And the Catholic Church, anyway, teaches that we don’t know who is in Hell, and even Judas may somehow have escaped that fate — though if anyone is a candidate it his him. The message is: Never despair, never discount God’s forgiveness. Of course, there is the offsetting sin of presumption, which is probably more commonplace these days. But there are always some of us are more likely to look at our failings and tend toward despair, and in that way place Him.

    The more I read the Victorians, and the more I read about them, the more I like them. Several generations who accomplished amazing things have been scorned and despised by their unworthy descendants.

    I am currently reading a book called Vivians, by Mary Hughes, who wrote A London Family, 1870-1900. It is about her mother and her aunt, who were born before Victoria ascended the throne, and lived long lives. They were not famous or important people, so the book captures the texture of ordinary life in those days.

  2. Thanks for posting this.

    Some interpretation:

    Judas Iscariot is the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Paid for this betrayal by the Sanhedrin with 30 pieces of silver, but appalled at what he’d done, he gave the money back and then hanged himself. The priests could not put the silver back into their fund since it was blood money so they used it to purchase a Potter’s Field in which to bury the indigent and nameless. That’s the account in the Gospels. The book of Acts says Judas purchased the field himself and died a wretched death there.

    In either case, he did not die easily and at peace. Stories were elaborated to illustrate his guilt, including one that said his ghost could not rest since even the earth itself rejected the Betrayer. This poem illustrates that vividly.

    But note the push from behind while he wanders. Ultimately it brings him past Calvary and the cross/empty tomb of the risen Christ to the wedding feast at which the Bridgroom (Christ) unites with his Church. The rest of the poem shows Christ extending mercy to Judas, who has concluded there ‘is no light any where else’ except in Christ. At this point his weary wandering is ended, doves (symbols of the Holy Spirit) take his body off to rest and he is invited in to join the wedding feast which, Christ says, has been awaiting him.

    The last image, of Judas washing Christ’s feet with his hair, is a deliberate parallel to a scene in the Gospels in which a woman does the same, annointing them with an expensive oil. Judas (in charge of the group’s finances) had protested this extravagance. Now, united at the Feast, he himself does this, symbolizing his repentance and restored love for the Bridegroom who in turn held off fully celebrating (pouring the wine) until even his Betrayer was reconciled to him.

  3. I looked up a few of the Victorianisms:

    A “wold” is a tract of open rolling country.

    The “brig of dread” is not a ship, but rather means “bridge of dread,” ie the bridge to Purgatory.

    The expression “round and round the frozen Pole/glideth the lean white bear” seems to refer to the constellation Ursa Major, which circles the pole star, Polaris. This is a brilliant double metaphor: one can also picture a polar bear compulsively circling around the earthly North Pole.

  4. Judas gets a bad rap – without the betrayal there would be no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection, and without the resurrection there would be no forgiveness and salvation for any of us. Somebody had to betray Jesus for it all to have worked. Judas agonized over the act before he did it in the Garden of Gesthemane, but Jesus told him to go ahead – do what you have to do. Judas fell on his sword for Jesus and sold out his eternal reputation in order for the scriptures to be fulfilled and for mankind’s eternal salvation, and he did so with Jesus’ foreknowledge and support. Taking the money for it was more than he could abide, however. And for what he did, of course, he is sitting in heaven in a special place.

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