From “Magdalen” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mary Magdalene. Our two daughters are named Martha and Marian, and I privately hoped that we would have a third daughter, named Madeleine. It didn’t happen. I love this image by Alexander Ivanov (1806–1858). And then I came across this poem, “Magdalen.”

I found it (a fragment really) in a book Frank sent me last week: Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse (Ignatius 2005). The mysterious thing is, I can’t find the rest of the poem on line. But then the author is a mystery too: Dunstan Thompson (1918–1975), a native of New England, who moved to Old England and became a hero of the homosexual underground—until he converted to Catholicism and renounced his old life. He even instructed his literary executor never to republish the poems of his early years.

Thompson’s story is told online by the Gay & Lesbian Review. I am not a regular reader; it’s just that this was the best account of Thompson’s life I could find, in fact the only account. If you look at the story through the other end of the telescope than that used by the writer, you might just see a male version of Mary Magdalene.

Here’s a selection from “Magdalen.” If anyone finds the whole thing on line, please let me know:

High in the noonday sky,
   His arms thrown open wide,
Love is about to die,
   With a thief on either side.

One He has welcomed home,
   The other prefers to hate,
Like the Pharisees, who roam
   In packs and wait and wait.

The soldiers there below,
   Bored and ashamed and blind,
Rattle the dice and throw
   Their lives away like rind.

The mocking scholars toss
   Their beautiful white heads
Far off; but at the Cross
   Who reads?

His mother, calm in pain,
   Adoring, and John,
The youngest friend, remain:
   Fair weather friendships gone.

And one other. She,
   Whose sins have had their share
In blossoming that tree,
   Offers her sorrow there.

Those tears are now for Him,
   Not for herself; she weeps
Outside her life; eyes swim
   Up from their own deeps.

His gift of sacrifice
   Opens her rusted heart:
With Him she pays the price
   Of love, that suffering art.

And so triumphant grief
   Makes her the fourth to stay:
Two innocents, a thief,
   And a whore, together pray.

  • Frank

    Sort of reminds me of Salinger, except this guy went "all-in" to Catholicism, according to Trower(and to the dismay of the writer of the article).

  • Maria

    Webster–It is a beauty. Here are some thoughts on Mary Magdalen, from none other the Hardon SJ–Hope it is not too long–Now Mary Magdalen. You notice, which evangelist carries all four stories of conversion? Luke, and who was St. Luke? How was he related to Paul? He was his disciple. And Paul had been a big sinner. That’s why, no doubt, he found Luke or Luke found him. We may be sure that Paul’s mind was behind the Gospel of St. Luke to bring out God’s mercy. So, women can be sinners too. Tradition identifies the sinful woman at Christ’s feet with Mary Magdalen. She says nothing but weeps, kisses Christ’s feet and pours ointment over them. And then Christ’s words, “Her many sins are forgiven because she has loved much.” To all accounts that we’ve got in commentators Mary Magdalen was a prostitute, had sinned and then she too came to her senses. But notice, she finds out about Christ, goes to where He was staying, and then, as providence would have it, weeps, Christ’s feet she washes, and the evangelist tells us with her tears, and wipes them. Again, St. Ignatius encourages what he calls the gift of tears to ask God for this gift. That does not mean if we don’t have the gift of physically shedding tears we therefore, say, our repentance of our past sins is either not sincere or as deep as that of another person who does weep. No. However, it is a gift. And, remember, Christ Himself wept only on several occasions, but the most important weeping of Christ was over what? Over Jerusalem. In other words, if God became man so He might have human eyes and human tears He wants to teach us that like Him we too should weep; He over our sins and we over our own. However, whether we can physically weep or not, physically there is a deep sense in which we should all weep interiorly. What is, what is the essence of weeping? The essence of weeping is that the internal experience of sorrow causes, brings on, an external manifestation. And is this ever important for all of us. In other words, even if we don’t shed, as I say, physical tears our behavior, our conduct, our dealing with other people should reflect the fact that we are sinners. Anyone who realizes, who really realizes that he or she is a sinner will that person ever be scandalized at someone else’s sins? No! Will that person be kind and forgiving and merciful? Yes. Is a person who is really, really converted who realizes that he had so deeply offended God, can that person ever be proud of anything? No! In other words, the realization of my having sinned is to have an affect in my life so that my sorrow over the sins that I have committed will manifest itself by behaving as a person who has repented and tells God I am sorry. Meaning, how should I expect people to deal with me anything but kindly or mercifully? In other words, I’ve deserved the worst possible treatment, the worst treatment from others because I have so deeply sinned.I also noticed Mary Magdalen not only repented but, we believe as found elsewhere in the Gospels, TO WHOM DID CHRIST FIRST APPEAR AFTER HIS RESURRECTION*? We may believe that it was His mother, but there is nothing in Scripture. Scripture tells us it was Mary Magdalen, specially beloved of Christ, privileged to bring the message of Christ’s resurrection, remember, to His own Apostles.*Our dear Savior could not have been any clearer in his Love and Mercy, right?

  • Anne

    Mary Magdalene is my favorite saint! Thanks for this post Frank the poem is great, and Maria, I love your comment! I certainly have the gift of tears and usually wish I wouldn't because it causes me so much embarrassment. You've given me another viewpoint!

  • Frank

    I was just the enabler, by sending Webster that book o' verse. Batman wrote this post.-The Boy Wonder

  • Maria

    The poem is truly a beauty, Frank. Anne–I did not know about the "gift of tears" until I encountered St. Ignatius. Like you, have I ever been blessed in this department. I weep over my sins out of a deep sorrow , yes, but St. Paul? He can send me right over the edge with tears of JOY.

  • AcadiANNA

    A priest asked, "Why do you suppose that Scriptures do not record the Risen Christ appearing to Mary, the Blessed Mother? You would think Scriptures would record Christ appearing to Mary, the Blessed Mother? You would think scriptures would record he (Jesus) appearing to his own mother first. In fact, Scriptures don't even mention Jesus appearing at all the the BVM. Why?"The answer he told us was insightful, "Because she believed in her Son already, with both a mother's belief and a disciple's belief. She believed in her heart that all things are possible with God. All you have to do is trust." Similarly to Mary, our first disciple who believed, we, too, are called to remember that all things are possible with God.The glory of the cross reflects Christ's power in conquering sin and death. His redeeming love as reflected in the Resurrection makes it possible for us to trust, to have faith and hope in the life we live today. All that God wills for us is for us to be happy in this life, so we can merit the joys of eternal happiness in the next. Jesus' dying and rising to new life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit makes such a happiness ever so real.