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’ all||1|
|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 about||Mark 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 men||20|
|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 Fere||30|
|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 nails||45|
|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 men||50|
|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 Genseret||Luke 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.|
Ezra Pound: Donkey?
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.
What Our Savior Saw from the Cross, James Jacques Tissot. (Public Domain)