Today there was a review in The Wall Street Journal of a book compiling letters that poet Ezra Pound wrote to his parents, which I read with some interest.
I don’t really know all that much about Pound. I remember something about him boxing with Ernest Hemingway, I recall that he was sort of a godfather to some of the young expatriates of that generation, and the fact that he took an EXTREME wrong turn when he came to support Fascism.
But my horror at his politics doesn’t keep me from appreciating an interesting piece of writing, any more than I dismiss Lindbergh’s achievement as an aviator because of his political sympathies.
And not being an English major or anything, I’m only familiar with one thing about his work. My uncle had this anthology of English literature lying about at the family home in Bennettsville, and I read this poem by Pound in it, back in my college days. And it’s always stuck with me as one of the most distinctive and iconoclastic portraits of Jesus I’ve ever read, even more so than Anthony Burgess’ version. Aside from the words, I like the rhythm of it; it’s almost like a sea chanty or something. I tend to like things that cause me to think a little harder and question my assumptions about someone, especially someone as important as Jesus. Even when it comes from a fascist.
This being Holy Week, I thought I’d share it:
Ballad of the Goodly Fere
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he,
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
‘Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”
A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.
He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea,
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddently.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.