Easter in Poem and Song

Easter in Poem and Song April 24, 2011

Alleluja, he is risen.
“Seven Stanzas at Easter”
by John Updike
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance

He is risen indeed, Alleluja.

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  • Didn’t know Updike had written that. Twould be interested to know when.

  • Bill, it was 1964.

  • Wow! Wow! And I’ve read it before, but it hit me again on re-reading it!
    Part of what surprises you in this poem is the mastery of … well, being able to take those scientific terms and make real poetry out of them. Probably thousands have tried, but not so many have achieved it.

  • Yeah! Pretty cool, huh? Three cheers for Max Planck’s quanta. 😛
    What I love about it is that it just cuts through all the stuff and fluff floating about regarding the meaning the Easter, even, sadly, within the Church. We get all this nonsense about how “resurrection” (not “the” resurrection, mind you) is a “symbol” of “unfolding life,” etc., etc., etc. But Updike refuses to let anyone escape with that sort of language. The resurrection was not just a “symbol,” thank you very much. It was a very tangible reality indeed. Just ask Doubting Thomas.