Scott Cairns once quipped, ‘I’m seeking to articulate a faith that isn’t eclipsed by a meager expression of that faith’. This, I’m sure, is precisely one the reasons his poems summon us; that this one who is so adept at playing games with poetry itself, is able also to put away his toys and allow speech – unveiling – to happen … to poet and reader, to all who have ears to hear. Here’s his poem ‘Into Hell and Out Again’:
In this Byzantine-inflected icon
of the Resurrection, the murdered Christ
is still in Hell, the chief issue being
that this Resurrection is of our agéd
parents and all their poor relations. We
find Him as we might expect, radiant
in spotless white, standing straight, but leaning
back against the weight of lifting them. Long
tradition has Him standing upon two
crossed boards—the very gates of Hell—and He,
by standing thus, has undone Death by Death,
we say, and saying nearly apprehend.
This all—the lifting of the dead, the death
of Death, His stretching here between two realms—
looks like real work, necessary, not pleasant
but almost matter-of-factly undertaken.
We witness here a little sheepishness
which death has taught both Mom and Dad; they reach
Christ’s proffered hands and everything about
their affect speaks centuries of drowning
in that abysmal crypt. Are they quite awake?
Odd—motionless as they must be in our
tableau outside of Time, we almost see
their hurry. And isn’t that their shame
which falls away? They have yet to enter bliss,
but they rise up, eager and a little shocked
to find their bodies capable of this.
– Scott Cairns, ‘Into Hell and Out Again’, Philokalia: new and selected poems, p. 163.