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

I read it and reread it. No capon priest was the Goodly Fere, But a man o’ men was he. I had to look up capon. Let’s just say Jesus Christ was fully God, and fully man.

I slammed into this Ezra Pound poem last year while writing my meek book and his portrait of my Lord arrested me. In days when Jesus is neutered and softened to support many a godless cause, this lover of brawny men, whose laugh rang free drew me.

I made a note then to share it with you this Holy Week.

Ezra Pound: Donkey?

In case you know something about Pound, and in the event a Good Friday poem by an ungodly man like Ezra Pound puts you off, you may want to read this first.

If not, scroll right on down.

He was a preening narcissist and base hedonist, spiteful and manipulative and stubborn. And of course, he was also a fascist. Not the naive or impulsive type we might try to explain away. Years after the world knew everything, Pound’s fascism remained: deliberate, knowing, unrepentant.

But he wrote beautiful poetry…

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.

Matthew Melema, Ezra Pound and the Unexpected Fere

If his culture had grown dull in Europe one hundred years ago, ours has grown duller still. I pray The Ballad of the Goodly Fere will arouse us to worship Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior.

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

The poem is in the disciple Simon the Zealot’s voice sometime after the Crucifixion Fere means mate, or companion. Notes and verse references are mine.

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 2
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.Hmm.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears3
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 wine4
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 men5
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,6
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 Fere7
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,8
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 9
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 nails10
And the blood gushed hot and free.
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he. (Not so. Matthew 27:46, 50)
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men11
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,12
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at GeneseretLuke 8:22-25
Wi’ twey words spoke suddenly.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,13
A mate of the wind and sea.     
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ was a man of men 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 only righteous, and his love for his friends was to the end.

But you are right. Pound no doubt took poetic license. I’m not certain Jesus cowed a thousand or drove a hundred out.

But I know he was a lover of brawny men— and blind and lame men and bleeding and worried-about-many-things women too.

But what will you do with the Lord of glory, the Master of Men, the Goodly Fere who saved our souls when they nailed him to the tree?

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)

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