Expectancy (After Christina Rossetti’s “The Thread of Life”)

Another one of my favourite Christina Rossetti poems is one of her least known – a cycle of three sonnets entitled, “The Thread of Life”. You can read the original here. In response to her poem, I have attempted my own set of three sonnets, working with some of Rossetti’s original theme. You might also notice evidence that I have been reading Ezekiel lately! I hope you like it.

Expectancy (After “The Thread of Life”)
 
                                    I.
The dryness of these bones in heat of day,
The fraying ends of hope, the valley wide
Where questions echo, empty, un-replied,
All speak futility in every way.
Before so many bones, what can I say?
What, shall these bones live? I’m not qualified
To say or know such things: would God confide
In sons of men, composed of bone and clay?
For I myself am out of breath and parched,
Sometimes a king, sometimes a vale of bones;
And I have watched the armies as they’ve marched
Up from their graves and into fields and homes,
Yet here we wait, as exiles, though we’ve searched
The sky for signs of breath; we wait, with groans.
 
                                    II.
And so all hope fades into self-defeat;
The rise of bones is fine for fairy-tales,
We mutter in our teeth, but now the scales
Have fallen from our eyes (so we repeat).
We keep our gaze fixed firmly on our feet,
Afraid to look too high, to pierce through veils,
For everything we trust in always fails
And every future tide will soon recede.
Still in my ear this question: Son of man…
Still: Shall these bones live? Yet no rustling breeze;
No breath yet in these bones, though now I scan
The valley floor, expectant. Static trees
Stand still, skeletal, waiting for the plan,
The signs of wind in faintly blowing leaves…
 
                                    III.
Death now pervades the air, but soon the day –
Now small, a kernel falling to the earth –
Will lift the valley’s bones up with new birth,
New life, thrusting old death out of its way.
Now hope is faint, and dry bones seem to say
That graves will win each battle, but the mirth
Of life still in the soil will soon unearth
A truth that our worst fears could not decay.
And then our bones too will, with joyful shout,
Connect, each bone to bone, and rushing breath
Will come from every wind, without a doubt,
And breathe into the slain; from underneath,
The soil will burst forth with spring and shout
Its victory chant – gone, gone, the reign of death.

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