Poetry: Keble – Good Friday

Is it not strange, the darkest hour
      That ever dawned on sinful earth
   Should touch the heart with softer power
      For comfort than an angel’s mirth?
That to the Cross the mourner’s eye should turn
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?

   Sooner than where the Easter sun
      Shines glorious on yon open grave,
   And to and fro the tidings run,
      “Who died to heal, is risen to save?”
Sooner than where upon the Saviour’s friends
The very Comforter in light and love descends?

   Yet so it is: for duly there
      The bitter herbs of earth are set,
   Till tempered by the Saviour’s prayer,
      And with the Saviour’s life-blood wet,
They turn to sweetness, and drop holy balm,
Soft as imprisoned martyr’s deathbed calm.

   All turn to sweet—but most of all
      That bitterest to the lip of pride,
   When hopes presumptuous fade and fall,
      Or Friendship scorns us, duly tried,
Or Love, the flower that closes up for fear
When rude and selfish spirits breathe too near.

   Then like a long-forgotten strain
      Comes sweeping o’er the heart forlorn
   What sunshine hours had taught in vain
      Of Jesus suffering shame and scorn,
As in all lowly hearts he suffers still,
While we triumphant ride and have the world at will.

   His piercèd hands in vain would hide
      His face from rude reproachful gaze,
   His ears are open to abide
      The wildest storm the tongue can raise,
He who with one rough word, some early day,
Their idol world and them shall sweep for aye away.

   But we by Fancy may assuage
      The festering sore by Fancy made,
   Down in some lonely hermitage
      Like wounded pilgrims safely laid,
Where gentlest breezes whisper souls distressed,
That Love yet lives, and Patience shall find rest.

   O! shame beyond the bitterest thought
      That evil spirit ever framed,
   That sinners know what Jesus wrought,
      Yet feel their haughty hearts untamed—
That souls in refuge, holding by the Cross,
Should wince and fret at this world’s little loss.

   Lord of my heart, by Thy last cry,
      Let not Thy blood on earth be spent—
   Lo, at Thy feet I fainting lie,
      Mine eyes upon Thy wounds are bent,
Upon Thy streaming wounds my weary eyes
Wait like the parchèd earth on April skies.

   Wash me, and dry these bitter tears,
      O let my heart no further roam,
   ’Tis Thine by vows, and hopes, and fears.
      Long since—O call Thy wanderer home;
To that dear home, safe in Thy wounded side,
Where only broken hearts their sin and shame may hide.

As with the last poem I shared from Keble, “Good Friday” begins with the first two stanzas setting up the rest of the poem. Here, the speaker asks many questions but starts with, “Is it not strange?” Indeed, isn’t it strange that we should so soon turn to this darkest of days on earth? Not to the lights of Christmas or the joy of Easter, but to the day our Savior died? Is it not strange we turn here for our comfort? And he answers us: “Yet so it is.” Why?

At the foot of Calvary, on death’s darkest day, we set down “the bitter herbs of earth” that they might be made new in Christ. Those bitter herbs, drawing us back to the Passover where the lamb was slain, are now set aside in the Lamb’s bitter suffering and death. As the blood drips down the wood post, so too are our sins washed away. Turning death to life, bitterness to balm.

From there, the speaker notes that our sins are turned sweet, such as our pride, despair, and fear. These are swept away in the song of forgiveness, once lost in Adam’s rebellion, heard in the darkness of this Friday, not in the light of happier times. Subtly, he guides us to look upon our Savior, look! He cannot hide from the shame He is now enduring, though we try to. He cannot close His ears to the reproach, and shall we close our ears to Him?

So we are shamed and cry out to our Lamb who was slain. We turn to Him fully, always turning to Him on this day more than the others. For as we pray, so has it already been done. Here we were atoned for. We are washed white. The bitterness has been set down. We have been called into the flock; our heart is His. We turn to and return on this night “To that dear home, safe in [His] wounded side. / Where only broken hearts their sin and shame may hide.”

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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