Good Friday: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Remnant of a 1497 Riemenschneider crucifix that hung in front of the altar of the Würzburg Cathedral until the building—and most of the city—was destroyed by fire in 1945. The 150-
year-old cast, probably made for a museum by the sculptor Andreas Halbig.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion

by Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

When they brought me down I heard the winds
In long lamentation weaving the leaves of palm-trees,
And footsteps receding far, far away. So the wounds
And the Cross to which I have been nailed all through the afternoon
Have not killed me. I listened: the wail
Traversed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser tied to a ship
That is sinking into the depths. The cry of grief
Was like a line of light separating morning from night
In the sad winter sky.
Despite its feelings the city fell asleep.

When orange trees and the mulberry are in blossom
When Jaikur spreads out to the limits of fantasy
When it grows green with vegetation whose fragrance sings
Together with the suns that have suckled it with their brilliance
When even its darkness grows green,
Warmth touches my heart and my blood flows into its earth
My heart is the sun when the sun throbs with light
My heart is the earth throbbing with wheat, blossoms and sweet water
My heart is the water; it is the ear of corn
Whose death is resurrection: it lives in him who eats
In the dough that grows round, moulded like a little breast, the breast
of life.
I died by fire: I burned the darkness of my mortal clay, there
remained only the god.
I was the beginning and in the beginning was the poor man
I died so that bread might be eaten in my name,
That they might sow me at the right season.
Many are the lives that I shall live: in every pit
I will become a future, a seed, a generation of men,
In every heart my blood shall flow
A drop of it or more. … —Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

About the poet: Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab (1926-1964) was an Iraqi poet from Basra. His beautiful long poem excerpted above, “The Messiah after the Crucifixion,” was translated by M.M. Badawi. Al-Sayyab came from a family long involved in Iraq’s political struggles for freedom. In 1941, Al-Sayyab’s own political awareness flowered, following the execution by the British of the leaders of the anti-colonial Rashid Ali Al-Kilani Movement of April-May. This poem may have recalled those public executions. Al-Sayyab pioneered Arabic free verse as a way of breaking the shackles of colonial constructs.

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