A Man’s Man: The Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Goodly Fere, Caravaggio Painting, Christ Expulses Money Changers
 Christ Expulses Money Changers. Cecco del Caravaggio. (Public Domain).

I slammed into this poem a few months ago as I was researching for my meek book. I made a note then to share it with you during Holy Week.

Here we are. So here it is: The Ballad of the Goodly Fere, by Ezra Pound.

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Simon the Zealot speaks somewhile after the Crucifixion; where fere = mate, companion.

HA’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all1
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
 
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man 5
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,John 18:8
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
 
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears 10
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,      
“Why took ye not me when I walked aboutMark 14:49
Alone in the town?” says he.
 
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine 15
When we last made company.Mark 14:25
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,       
But a man o’ men was he.
 
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men20
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,Matthew 21:12
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.        
 
They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think,25
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.
 
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere30 
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,Matthew 20:18
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
 
“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,35
And wake the dead,” says he. Matthew 21:14
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
’Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”
 
A son of God was the Goodly Fere 40
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.       
I have seen him upon the tree.
 
He cried no cry when they drave the nails45
And the blood gushed hot and free.
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he. (No: Matthew 27:46, 50)
 
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men50
On the hills o’ Galilee.
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the gray o’ the sea.
 
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging, 55
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at GenseretLuke 8:22-25
Wi’ twey words spoke suddently.
 
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,60
A mate of the wind and sea.     
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
Jesus Appears on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee, James Jacques Tissot. (Public Domain)

Ezra Pound: Donkey?

But in case you know about Pound and in the event a Good Friday poem by an unholy man like Pound is off putting— for he lived not like a saint—please read this quick bit by Matthew Melema,

God often shares his truth through unlikely sources. Nebuchadnezzar was cursed to live like a beast because of his hubris. But he later wrote one of the humblest tributes to God’s grandeur in the Old Testament. Paul was the “chief of sinners” before becoming Christ’s chosen vessel. Balaam’s donkey was, well, a donkey before God used it to berate an oblivious prophet.

That’s how I view Pound in the “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”: a donkey. Sure he’s hard-headed, brutish, and even bestial. But when his culture had grown dull, thinking of Jesus as a mere teacher of platitudes, Pound was there. He reminds us of the vitality, the loyalty, the gospel-strangeness of the Son of God.

Our King Jesus was a man’s man and a gentleman. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Mighty King of Meekness. His strength was tenderly harnessed, his anger was ever righteous, and his love for his mates, to the end.

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

I opened with Pound’s poem but I’ll close with Sayers’ prose. Both make the same point: Jesus was not the least bit dull, nor for a second is the Passion Story.

[T]he tale of the time when God was the under-dog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; Christ assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness […]

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed […]

Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that once at least in the world’s history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the resurrection.

From, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged Is the Official Creed of Christendom,” which first appeared in the London Sunday Times two weeks before Easter 1938. Reprinted here from Letters to a Diminished Church, by Dorothy L. Sayers.

We are here again friends, on the eve of the resurrection. And I hope that with me, you’re more smitten with the master of men now than you’ve ever been.

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Luke 23:46-49

.What Our Savior Saw from the Cross, painting by James Jacques Tissot

What Our Savior Saw from the Cross, James Jacques Tissot. (Public Domain)

Dinah Departed: Remembering A Flop-eared Bunny

On Losing A Pet

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Who knew that the sight of purple clover could, reflexively, cause my knees to bend so my fingers can pluck? That three years would be enough to create in me a clover-picking reflex? Or that, these last three years, for a walk to be good it must be capped by gathering fresh greens for Dinah?

Who knew, in bed at night, we’d find ourselves listening for her leggy, lagomorphic thump from an empty crate in the basement? Or wishing I could watch her kick up those big heels again and leap- I always thought- like a calf released from a stall. Seeing her hop like that when I came down to exercise in the morning always made me happy.

Losing a pet means we can’t push death out to the margins. We can’t ignore the fact that all flesh is like grass, and our lives our like a mist. Pets shorter lives force us to measure  our short lives. Losing a pet forces us to think about these things.

Who knew that a glance at a purple clover would make me think on heaven?

Remembering Dinah

Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Somehow a lumpy little flop-eared bunny named Dinah did all that. The boys followed her for three years and now she helps our family measure our own days. Five years ago, losing a pet named Zippy, did the same. In fact, remembering our good dog Zippy sort of kicked off this blog. 

But this week, we remember Dinah. 

We’d just moved to our new dwelling place, after 17 years in the old schoolhouse on the corner, when our friend Rosie mentioned her nephew might have a bunny for sale. 

We remember how Dinah made us laugh. Like when she pounced on a friend’s yippy little puppy. We remember how our timid cousin Anna finally worked up the courage to feed Dinah a carrot. Then Dinah crunched, and Anna laughed. We laughed as she hopped figure eight’s around our feet and under our knees. She enjoyed those routes.

We laugh about how she swallowed that balloon and hopped right along. We smile now wondering if she may possibly have enjoyed being hopped along by Gabe with his much-desired, 9th birthday, rabbit-hopping leash. But we know for certain how Dinah enjoyed all the loving rubs she got from the guys. Those rubs are when we learned that cats aren’t the only critters that purr.

Our three years and a month with Dinah ended Tuesday.

A Yardstick for our Days

Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;  let me know how fleeting I am! …For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.Psalm 39:4, 12b

Easter Morning with Dinah, 2015

Granted- Rabbits aren’t man’s best friend, and cats might have more personality. But Dinah had a place in our hearts. She was a measure for our days.

Dinah munched less and nested more the last few weeks. We saw this coming. So when Tuesday came, I filled her box with Dad’s fresh, alfalfa hay;  her bowl with sweet orange Gator-Aide. Then I carried Dinah from crate and place her gently down on a towel beside my desk.

Hey guys, Dinah doesn’t have long to live. You might want to say good-bye now, I told them when they marched in after school. And Sam said his in his matter-of-fact way. And Gabe said in his emotive way. Then hope broke through and Gabe announced, “Look Mom, she’s grooming. You said that means she must feel good.” 

But a few minutes later Dinah lay down. Soon her breathing changed. Then Dinah thumped one last time and lay still on her side. Death is not right, Gabe. It hurts. It’s not how God made it to be. That’s why we need a Savior. 

Tears flowed as we stroked a velveteen ear. But if we know Jesus, Gabe, death will be swallowed up in victory. 

That was last week. Since then, I’ve heard a few phantom thumps in the night and bent down once or twice to pick a purple clover.

And I’ve thought a lot about how living with a pet anchors our memories and gears up our hope for Resurrection Morn. How losing a pet, oddly enough, can even help us.  Dinah’s departure reminds me how short this life is, and makes me want to number these fleeting days right. 

So  if you need any help measuring your days, you might get a pet.

Even a lumpy little flop-eared bunny will do.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 
Psalm 90:12-14