Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross deserves some poetic note…as will tomorrow’s Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Richard Crashaw, whose deeply somatic, extravagantly Baroque spirituality made him somewhat distasteful to an older generation of critics, fits our purpose for both days admirably. My source is the 2013 University of Minnesota Edition of The English Poems of Richard Crashaw, pages 204-05.
Here is his “Upon the Bleeding Crucifix, a Song.” I’d like to add as accompaniment my favorite English rendition of the Vexilla Regis.
Upon the Bleeding Crucifix, a Song
Jesu, no more! It is full tide.
From thy head and from thy feet,
From thy hands and from thy side
All the purple rivers meet.
What need thy fair head bear a part
In show’rs, as if thine eyes had none?
What need they help to drown thy heart,
That strives in torrents of its own?
Thy restless feet now cannot go
For us and our eternal good,
As they were ever wont. What though?
They swim. Alas, in their own flood.
Thy hands to give, thou canst not lift;
Yet will thy hand still giving be.
It gives but O, itself’s the gift.
It gives though bound; though bound ’tis free.
But O thy side, thy deep-digged side!
That hath a double Nilus going.
Nor ever was the Pharian tide
Half so fruitful, half so flowing.
No hair so small, but pays his river
To this red sea of thy blood,
Their little channels can deliver
Something to the general flood.
But while I speak, whither are run
All the rivers named before?
I counted wrong. There is but one,
But O that one is one all o’er.
Rain-swoll’n rivers may rise proud,
Bent all to drown and overflow.
But when indeed all’s overflowed
They themselves are drownèd too.
Thy blood’s deluge, a drie chance
Dear Lord to thee, to us is found
A deluge of deliverance;
A deluge lest we should be drowned.
Ne’er wast thou in a sense so sadly true,
The well of living waters, Lord, till now.