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"ON THE WOUNDS OF OUR CRUCIFIED LORD" Richard Crashaw (1646) Richard Crashaw commonly employed what would later be described as baroque style in much of his poetry. The label described stylistic hyperbole and employment of outrageous figurative language, his extended metaphors often alienating readers, who might find them inappropriate to his religious subject matter. "On
"ON THE WOUNDS OF OUR CRUCIFIED LORD" 309
the Wounds of our Crucified Lord" well represents his approach, and full verses are included here in order to clarify the style that resulted in Crashaw's elimination from the group of poets considered the most accomplished in the 17th century. Crashaw's has been classified with that of METAPHYSICAL POETS AND POETRY, but the label does not relieve the harshness in contrast that results from his often shocking metaphors.
The wounds referred to are traditionally those inflicted during Christ's crucifixion from a crown of thorns that pierced his scalp, from nails hammered into his hands and feet to hold him on the cross, and from a final stab in his side to hasten his death. "On the Wounds of our Crucified Lord" contains five four-line verses of rhyming couplets, with form presenting no challenge to the reader. However, the second line introduces the jarring extended metaphor that employs imagery of human eyes and mouths to refer to the wounds sustained by Christ on the cross:
o these wakeful wounds of thine!
Are they mouths? or are they eyes?
Be they mouths, or be they eyne,
Crashaw often employs alliteration in his poetry, as observed in the first line with the w sounds. By using the traditional biblical personal reference thine, he establishes the solemn formality of the occasion. once he establishes his subject as Christ's wounds, he moves directly into the mouth and eye comparison, questioning Christ as to which each of his wounds represents, using in the third line an older plural form for eyes, eyne. The final line basically states that each wound is either an eye or a mouth.
The second verse introduces images generally reserved as references to romance, such as "full-bloomed lips" and "roses." The description of the lips as "full-bloomed" connotes maturity, traditionally seen in references to women mature enough to engage in sex. In Crashaw's use he refers to Christ's maturing into his role as a sacrifice for man's sin. The mixture of what might be termed the erotic with the sacred proved a specialty of JoHN DoNNE, but Crashaw lacks Donne's art as he writes:
Lo! A mouth, whose full-bloomed lips
At too dear a rate are roses. Lo! A bloodshot eye! That weeps
Crashaw's imagery remains true to the King James Bible (1611) translation of John 19:34, which reads about Christ on the cross, "But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." Although later scholars felt the water referred to plasma, the yellowish product of blood that has separated into its physical elements, Crashaw's comparison to tears is understandable. However, readers attempting to picture a wound as a pair of full lips or a bloodshot eye, a condition common to those who overindulge in alcohol, might encounter some dissonance.
As Crashaw moves into the third verse, he refers to wounds caused by what was traditionally believed to be either a metal or wooden stake driven through Christ's feet to hold him onto the cross. While none of the four gospels in the New Testament of the Bible makes clear that detail, simply stating that Christ was crucified, the methods used during crucifixion were well known. Crashaw notes that Christ's foot has received "Many a kiss and many a tear," and that those who honored him in such a way will have all their sins forgiven, "have all repaid, / Whatsoe'er thy charges were."
After this encouraging thought Crashaw further extends his metaphor in the fifth verse:
This foot hath got a mouth and lips To pay the sweet sum of thy kisses; To pay thy tears, an eye that weeps Instead of tears such gems as this is.
Crashaw establishes an additional metaphor to that of the mouth and eyes with the reference to gems, connoting something of great value, which he will extend into his final verse. He in effect stacks one metaphor on top of another, as, having referred to the liquid flowing from Christ's wounds as tears wept by eyes, he will now convert those tears into jewels. That final verse concludes the poem with
The difference only this appears (Nor can the change offend), The debt is paid in ruby-tears Which thou in pearls didst lend.
Crashaw achieves with his metaphors the unity he desires. His final reference to debt reflects on the third verse reference to Christ's death's constituting payment of all debts for the faithful. The use of the term ruby also serves double duty, acting to support the gem metaphor, reflecting on the inestimable value of Christ's gift to mankind through his death. In addition it reemphasizes the color red, which readers have attached to Christ's blood, the "full-bloomed" lips of the mouths that represent his wounds, and the roses previously mentioned. The concluding reference to pearls supports the idea of the value to man of Christ's death.
Crashaw remained a passionate writer, as evidenced by "On the Wounds of Our Crucified Lord." His emotions are made clear in his poetry, leaving readers to admire his determined enthusiasm and devotion to his faith, if not always his manner of expressing that passion.
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