Sunday, 25 November 2007

Poem: To the Good Thief by Saunders Lewis

As we approach Christmas it's a good time to reflect on the meaning of Advent and what it foreshadowed.

So here's a poem by Dr Saunders Lewis, founder of Plaid Cymru, its leader for most of the 20th Century and "fascist anti-Semite" - i.e. nationalist and Christian.

The poem reminds us that Christ was born as much for the shepherds, little children and "good thieves" as for the princes and powerful in this world (some might say moreso).

This is, I believe, a translation of the original Welsh language poem:

To the Good Thief

You did not see Him on the mountain of Transfiguration
Nor walking the sea at night;
You never saw corpses blushing when a bier or sepulchre
Was stuck by his cry.

It was in the rawness of his flesh and his dirt that you saw Him,
Whipped and under thorns,
And in his nailing like a sack of bones outside the town
On a pole, like a scarecrow.

You never heard the making of the parables like a Parthenon of words,
Nor his tone when He talked of his father,
Neither did you hear the secrets of the room above,
Nor the prayer before Cedron and the treachery.

It was in the racket of a crowd of sadists reveling in pain
And their screeches, howls, curses, and shouts
That you heard the profound cry of the breaking heart of their prey:
‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’

You, hanging on his right; on his left, your brother;
Writhing like skinned frogs,
Flea-bitten petty thieves thrown in as a retinue to his shame,
Courtiers to a mock king in his pain.

O master of courtesy and manners, who enlightened you
About your part in this harsh parody?
‘Lord, when you come into your kingdom, remember me,’ –
The kingdom that was conquered through death.

Rex Judaeorum; it was you who saw first the vain
Blasphemy as a living oracle,
You who first believed in the Latin, Hebrew and Greek,
That the gallows was the throne of God.

O thief who took Paradise from the nails of a gibbet,
Foremost of the noblitas of heaven,
Before the hour of death pray that it may be given to us
To perceive Him and to taste Him.

~ Saunders Lewis
1893 – 1985


Jimmy Two Shoes said...

Reading up on this and the good thief is known as St Dismas and tradition has it that he was in the band of robbers that was involved in the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the Jewish tyrant Herod.

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