Whether Easter means rebirth, rebellion or just chocolate, this month’s challenge is to post your paschal poems
Easter is upon us. For Christians it’s the most significant religious festival of the year; for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to over-indulge in chocolate. One way or another, it’s also a time of year that has inspired a great deal of poetry over the centuries.
As you might expect, a good proportion of this verse is religious in nature, and this tradition of devotional Easter writing goes back a long way. For instance, that fine old English poem The Cherry-Tree Carol locates Easter as the culmination of the Christian cycle, the “uprising” that makes sense of the whole arc of Christ’s life. George Herbert wrote a number of religious Easter poems, of which Easter Wings is perhaps the best-known. As well as being a very effective hymn to the soaring sense of resurrection that every good Christian should feel behind the story of the passion, Easter Wings, with its shape that enacts its theme, is one of the earliest examples of concrete poetry in English. This visual aspect of its organisation gives the poem a kind of monumental strength that belies its mere 20 lines.
In Ireland, mention of Easter often summons up another kind of uprising. I began last month’s blog with Easter 1916 by Yeats; I didn’t mention Joyce Kilmer’s response poem, Easter Week. Kilmer takes Yeats to task for his negative response to the Easter Rising, declaring boldly that “Romantic Ireland never dies!” I suppose it’s a toss-up as to which of these poets was less wrong.
Another Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, takes the opportunity, in his poem Easter Day, to contrast the pomp and ceremony of the church’s celebration of the death of its founder with the simplicity of the life that founder lived. The result is not to the benefit of the prelates, but it is one of Wilde’s finest shorter poems.
Besides its religious and political connotations, Easter has always been, for working people, a holiday: a chance to dress up in your Sunday best, go out and have some fun. This aspect of the occasion is well captured in Ingeborg Bachmann’s dialect poem Easter Zunday. Bachmann also reminds us that this spring holiday has its roots in earlier, pagan celebrations of fertility and the end of winter.
The festive nature of Easter has long loomed large for children, and James Laughlin’s Easter in Pittsburgh captures the excitement and anticipation of waiting for those eggs to arrive. However, the poem’s real strength is to allow the religious and social contexts of Laughlin’s childhood world to slide in, as seen and half-understood through his child’s eyes.
And so, as ever, I invite you to share your poems. Whether Easter means meditations on the Passion or a longing for chocolate, the time for writing it down is now. Oh, and save some of that mouth-wateringly delicious egg for me.