She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne
him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
In one of John Donne’s under-read
hymns, on his sickness, he claims one place
held Paradise and Calvary—Adam’s disgrace,
too: over whose tree we choose instead
the cross of the tender forester.
He tended there by virtue of his blood
the ancient ruin of that prior wood.
(Its seed was left in Adam’s mouth at first,
by Seth, as legend has it, or so it goes.)
And so the fevered poet felt the sweat
of elder Adam, even as his soul met
in extremity new Adam in clothes
fit for cultivation. Lilied fields exhibit
still some aboriginal greenhouse of Love.
It’s enough to make one’s mind flutter over
another poet full of holy ambition,
who borrowed lilies from a deceased
imperial nephew, scraped the epic
sadness from their petals. He quickly
tuned them to a better season,
while with great reasonableness
his blessed one arrived by chariot,
clad in green and red, his fair excoriator.
Her lesson? Hope should be unceasing,
yet stern as a plunger that excavates
those parasitic sins from any scrounging,
gaunt-faced pilgrim. Then the longed-
for orbit commenced, longing sated.
His soul became both wholly full,
yet pulled by fiercer hunger from folly
toward heaven’s center, ultimate pole,
temple where God welcomes fools.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.