Tomorrow is Epiphany Sunday, and so I’ve chosen to begin my month of looking at Peter Steele’s poetry with this response to his poem “Madonna and Child”. Steele’s poem is an ekphrastic poem, meaning that it has come “out of” another art work, Justin O’Brien’s intriguing “Madonna and Child” (image from http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8730/). I’ve followed Steele’s Shakespearean sonnet structure and have responded myself to the painting.
But more important than any of these works is the truth of Epiphany, the revelation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. No art-work or poem can do justice to this truth.
Epiphany (After “Madonna and Child”) It’s not His face that makes His glory known, And yet we do our best. See how refined, Complete He is: His mother stern, enthroned, Her gaze towards us, His towards the side, His right hand raised, as though to warn us how The scars will find their way into His palm. Behind them: grey squares and diamonds, no glow, Only a crimson-tinted chair. How calm He stands upon His mother’s knees, how vacant Her gaze! If swords will pierce through souls, she seems To take it well, her stoic eyes aslant, Almost – it looks – on brink of hazy dreams. Yet He appears to stare straight at the Tree, The unseen throne of this epiphany. Madonna and Child - Peter Steele He might have just come from the barber, unless She keeps razor and scissors bright in a jar To smarten him up on Fridays. There's finesse In the gowns' fall, the boy's bearing, the scar That pinks each hand and foot, the woman's gaze Towards you and beyond, the nailed-up throne To house the poet's 'heaven in paraphrase', The haunting grown the stranger, being sown. And here's the thing: among those out to see, Young as they are, what he and she can tell Of all time's blessings and its piracy, The tolling or the spiring of a bell, Guess as they do at the soured wine and the lance, The feet are poised forever towards a dance. (From Peter Steele, White Knight with Beebox: New and Selected Poems, John Leonard Press, 2008)