Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'The Resurrection' by Elizabeth Jennings


The Resurrection

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.

If there were sudden noises I dismissed
Them as trick of sound, a sleight of hand.
Not by a natural joy could I be blessed
Or trust a thing I could not understand.

Maybe I was a shadow thrown by one
Who, weeping, came to lift away the stone,
Or was I but the path on which the sun,
Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown?

I heard the voices and the recognition
And love like kisses heard behind thin walls.
Were they my tears which fell, a real contrition
Or simply April with its waterfalls?

It was by negatives I learnt my place.
The Garden went on growing and I sensed
A sudden breeze that blew across my face.
Despair returned but now it danced, it danced.

Analysis

The poem Resurrection by Elizabeth Jennings is based on the theme of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which means the rising of Jesus from the dead, that is believed to have happened on the third day after his crucifixion.

Summary

The narrator of the poem could be Mary Magdalene, who is believed to have waited outside the tomb of Jesus. It was Mary who saw the empty tomb first. She was “the one who waited in the garden” and was not a believer at that time, of Christ’s resurrection, since she was still mourning for his death.

In the first two stanzas, Mary Magdalene is presented as a person who was not easily trusting of other people or joyful events. “Not by a natural joy could I be blessed/ Or trust a thing I could not understand”. Mary Magdalene is portrayed as an adulterer in the Bible, and a woman who is likely to have experienced much grief in her life.

In the third stanzas, the narrator asks whether she is the shadow of the one who removed the stone in front of the tomb, or “the path on which the sun,/Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown.” In both the cases, the narrator talks about herself as a person who did not have an identity of her own.

In the fourth stanza, there is a direct reference to the biblical event which narrates the washing of Jesus’s feet by Magdalene as she wept. It was her tears that washed Jesus’s feet. In these lines, the narrator doubts her own act, wondering whether it was really her contrition that produced her tears, or just a grieving mood like a seasonal rain (“April with its waterfalls”).

In the final stanza, the narrator talks about herself “It was by negatives I learnt my place”. This indicates the kind of life Mary Magdalene led, which must have been full of public derision and criticism. But suddenly, there was a “breeze” that blew across her face. This could be a reference to the risen Christ, which is good news for Mary Magdalene. Her sad state of life did not leave, but then she was in a mood to dance now. “Despair returned but now it danced, it danced.”

Language and imagery

The poem is imbued heavily with Catholic imagery from the Bible. The ‘garden’, ‘stone’ ad ‘contrition’ are words that are either present in the bible or part of catholic religious observances. There is a reference to the biblical event in the poem in the lines “the path on which the sun,/ Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown?” This could be a reference to the blacking out of the sun that is believed to have happened when Jesus died on the cross.

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