Good Friday: a Dramatic Poem by John Masefield
Only a penny, a penny,
Lilies brighter than any,
Lilies whiter than snow.
Beautiful lilies grow
Wherever the truth so sweet
Has trodden with bloody feet,
Has stood with a bloody brow.
Friend, it is over now,
The passion, the sweat, the pains.
Only the truth remains.
I cannot see what others see;
Wisdom alone is kind to me.
Wisdom that comes from Agony.
Wisdom that lives in the pure skies,
The untouched star, the spirit's eyes;
O Beauty, touch me, make me wise.
Today is Good Friday, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar
John Masefield isn’t much remembered today: he was Poet Laureate from 1930 till 1967, and schoolchildren used to learn his poems Sea-Fever (‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky’) and the memorably rhythmic Cargoes (from ‘quinquereme of Ninevah’ to ‘Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack’). It’s even possible that what will live longest is his children’s book Box of Delights.
This play in verse is an oddity – it keeps switching between consciously poetic passages, and lines that might come from any passion play. Some parts of it work really well, and I think it could make a great radio drama – written before radio was a possibility, in the middle of a World War.
Masefield was not a truly great poet, but he has his moments.
The picture is the Madonna of the Lilies by Maurice Denis from the Athenaeum website.