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Note on "Judas iscariot" by Countee Cullen
12022-10-03T08:34:43-04:00Amardeep Singhc185e79df2fca428277052b90841c4aba30044e12131Glossary/Biblical referenceplain2022-10-03T08:34:43-04:00Amardeep Singhc185e79df2fca428277052b90841c4aba30044e1This poem by Countee Cullen deals with Judas Iscariot, a figure in the New Testament who is thought to have betrayed Christ. The story, recounted fairly closely in Cullen's poem, is that when officers came to arrest Christ Judas kissed him and said "Rabbi" to indicate to the officers the identity of the person they were looking for. In some Gospels, he received 30 silver coins for his actions, and later died by suicide after coming to regret the part he had played. The non-canonical Gnostic Gospel of Judas also indicates he may have engaged in the betrayal at Christ's own direction.
Cullen's version in this poem clearly aims to humanize Judas and his actions, and underlines the possibility that Judas was asking at Christ's own direction and therefore might likely have achieved salvation.
I think when Judas' mother heard His first faint cry the night That he was born, that worship stirred Her at the sound and sight. She thought his was as fair a frame As flesh and blood had worn; I think she made this lovely name For him— "Star of my morn."
As any mother's son he grew From spring to crimson spring; I think his eyes were black, or blue, His hair curled like a ring. His mother's heart-strings were a lute Whereon he all day played; She listened rapt, abandoned, mute, To every note he made.
I think he knew the growing Christ, And played with Mary's son, And where mere mortal craft sufficed, There Judas may have won. Perhaps he little cared or knew, So folly-wise is youth, That He whose hand his hand clung to Was flesh-embodied Truth;
Until one day he heard young Christ, With far-off eyes agleam, Tell of a mystic, solemn tryst Between Him and a dream. And Judas listened, wonder-eyed, Until the Christ was through, Then said, “And I, though good betide, Or ill, will go with you."
And so he followed, heard Christ preach, Saw how by miracle The blind man saw, the dumb got speech, The leper found him well. And Judas in those holy hours, Loved Christ, and loved Him much, And in his heart he sensed dead flowers Bloom at the Master's touch.
And when Christ felt the death hour creep, With sullen, drunken lurch, He said to Peter, "Feed my sheep, And build my holy church.” He gave to each the special task That should be his to do, But reaching one, I hear him ask, “What shall I give to you?”
Then Judas in his hot desire Said, "Give me what you will." Christ spoke to him with words of fire, “Then, Judas, you must kill, One whom you love, One who loves you As only God's son can: This is the work for you to do To save the creature man."
"And men to come will curse your name, And hold you up to scorn; In all the world will be no shame Like yours; this is love's thorn. It takes strong will of heart and soul, But man is under ban. Think, Judas, can you play this role In heaven's mystic plan?"
So Judas took the sorry part, Went out and spoke the word, And gave the kiss that broke his heart, But no one knew or heard. And no one knew what poison ate Into his palm that day, Where, bright and damned, the monstrous weight Of thirty white coins lay.
It was not death that Judas found Upon a kindly tree; The man was dead long ere he bound His throat as final fee. And who can say if on that day When gates of pearl swung wide, Christ did not go His honored way With Judas by His side?
I think somewhere a table round Owns Jesus as its head, And there the saintly twelve are found Who followed where He led. And Judas sits down with the rest, And none shrinks from His hand, For there the worst is as the best, And there they understand.
And you may think of Judas, 'friend, As one who broke his word, Whose neck came to a bitter end For giving up his Lord. But I would rather think of him As the little Jewish lad Who gave young Christ heart, soul, and limb, And all the love he had.