‘The Resurrection’ is, as the title suggests about the resurrection of Christ. It is a well-structured poem and perhaps that strict structure is symbolic of the order that Christians believe that gods bring to the world. The rhyming scheme which follows an ABAB pattern does make the poem easy to read although in some ways belies the tone of the poem which isn’t an entirely cheerful piece. The piece details the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is quite unclear what role in proceedings the narrator plays. Are they are a person or an omnipotent facet of nature detailing the events that transpired. The reference to the narrator having a face in the last stanza suggests humanity, but this is still unclear.
Form and Tone
Jennings is famed for her poetry related to her religion. This is one such poem. It is in free verse. Structurally it is separated into five stanzas each of them separated further into four lines. These lines are of a similar length each around ten or eleven syllables. ‘The Resurrection’ has an underlying sadness. It is not exactly a dark poem, but nor is it a happy poem covering themes such as despair and forgiveness.
You can read the full poem The Resurrrection here.
The Resurrection Analysis
I was the one who waited in the garden
Doubting the morning and the early light.
I watched the mist lift off its own soft burden,
Permitting not believing my own sight.
The reference in the first line of this stanza of ‘The Resurrection’ could be a reference to a couple of places. Firstly, and perhaps most unlikely, it could be a reference to the garden of Eden. However, given the title and content of the poem, it is more probably a reference to the garden of Gethsemane. This is the place where, according to the bible, Jesus and his disciples prayed the night before Jesus was crucified. The suggestion here then is that the narrator may well be the voice of one of the disciples?
There are several keywords in this stanza that help dictate the tone of this poem. For instance doubting and burden. They convey the tone of the narrator who clearly has a heavy heart. At a guess, I would say that this stanza is probably based on the morning of the crucifixion itself. In the last line of the stanza, the narrator may well be looking on at Christ hanging from the cross. Although this isn’t stated it claims that the narrator can’t believe their eyes. Although to be quite honest it might be more the case that they don’t want to believe their eyes.
If there were sudden noises I dismissed
Or trust a thing I could not understand.
There are suggestions in this stanza that the devil’s work is at play. The narrator comes across as very wary and cautious in this particular stanza. Dismissing loud sounds, what is the reason for this unless they believe that those sounds are trickery? The narrator clearly doesn’t want to believe what is going on and so attributes the sights and sounds they are witnessing as the devils doing. Of course, this isn’t really the case. As we know the devil really didn’t play any significant role in Christ’s actual death (although he did feature in the events leading up to it.) The phrase sleight of hand is one particularly that could be associated with Satan’s trickery. It is clear from the third line that the narrator cannot be cheered up following the scenes that they are witnessing.
Maybe I was a shadow thrown by one
Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown?
The narrator takes a really interesting stance here they seemingly dehumanize and objectify themselves. In this stanza, it would appear that the narrator is questioning themselves, that they don’t really know who they are. You can see this as they postulate that perhaps they are a stone or a pathway. The lifting away of the stone that is mentioned in this stanza could well be a reference to the large stone that was placed over the entrance to the tomb of Jesus Christ. This was rolled away when it was revealed that Jesus was no longer in there (because he had risen from the dead) the description of a heavy sun helps to create an image of gloom. The idea of the sun being thrown is particularly evocative.
I heard the voices and the recognition
Or simply April with its waterfalls?
The opening line used in this stanza is fairly interesting. The idea of hearing voices may be taken literally or figuratively here. If someone is going crazy they are said to be hearing voices, perhaps the feelings of remorse that the narrator is experiencing has led to them becoming slightly crazy? The narrator clearly carries a lot of self-doubts and a lot of guilt. They question themselves in this stanza asking if their tears were a genuine sign of remorse. The use of the month of April in this stanza is clever as April is the month of Easter, the time used to celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent return from the dead.
It was by negatives I learnt my place.
Despair returned but now it danced, it danced.
It is clear from the opening line of the stanza that the narrator feels that they have learned a lesson from their experiences. However, this line also highlights how negative the experience has been. The second line states that the garden went on growing. Is this the poet’s roundabout way of saying life goes on? Is the gardens continued growth symbolic of the fact that one man’s death doesn’t stop the world from turning?
The third line reveals that the narrator probably is a person which negates any idea that the narrator might have been an inanimate object which was sort of intimated in the third stanza and finally ‘The Resurrection’ finishes off by talking about despair. Despair is said to be dancing now. This is an interesting concept and almost oxymoronic in some ways. The concept of dancing and despair doesn’t really seem to go hand in hand. It would seem then that this almost suggests that despair itself is mocking them. Is this another allusion to the devil. It could be a reference to the phrase “dancing with the devil” perhaps?
About Elizabeth Jennings
Elizabeth Jennings was an American poet who was born in Boston but moved to Oxford when she was only six years old. She remained in England for the rest of her life and is often known as an English poem as a consequence of this. Jennings was a well-decorated poet achieving many remarkable honors, not least of all being recognized by the Queen with a CBE. Jennings is regarded as somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to poetry. She is well known for her lyric poetry. She was a roman catholic and this informed much of her poetry including this poem.