"I AM THE DOOR" Richard Crashaw (1646)
"I Am the Door" represents well the type of poetry produced by Richard Crashaw that engendered hostility toward his work for centuries after his death, not for its topic, but for its style. It focuses on Christ's symbolism as the entrance by which believers may reach heaven, a traditional CoNCEIT, its source found in the King James Bible (1611) translation of John 10:9, "I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved." Challenged then by how to incorporate elegantly the term open as verb or adjective in describing Christ's act of invitation to grace, Crashaw exhibits creativity in form but disregards sound and its effect, as he twice employs the shortened and awkward form ope. That term alone undermines any hope for poetic unity, as it shatters both sound and sense in the brief poem, printed here in its entirety:
And no wh' art set wide ope, the spear's sad art,
Lo! Hath unlocked thee at the very heart; He to himself (I fear the worst)
And his own hope Hath shut these doors of heaven, that durst Thus set them ope.
Crashaw begins in the middle of the act of Christ's crucifixion in a line that recalls the spear plunged into Christ's side to promote his death. It gathers momentum through the use of single-syllable words that pull the reader along. However, the line's flow stumbles over the abbreviated form for open, distracting the reader: "And now th' art set wide ope, the spear's sad art, / Lo! Hath unlocked thee at the very heart." The title has introduced the extended metaphor of the door, which Crashaw supports admirably with reference to a door standing unlocked and wide open. It offers sustenance to the faithful dismayed by the stab into Christ's body as they realize his death leads directly to their own redemption. only through his sacrifice can they enter heaven. While the thought proves strong, Crashaw destroys the sensibility he works to establish by allowing an unidentified voice to step into his work with a parenthetical remark, which could be attributed to either the poet himself or a poetic persona, in the third line: "He to himself (I fear the worst),"
then continues in a reversal of his optimistic tone. In a four-word indented line, he writes, "And his own hope," adding no punctuation at the line's end to create enjambment. Crashaw then moves back to the left margin for the fifth line, once again indenting the final, sixth line: "Hath shut these doors of heaven, that durst / Thus set them ope." His ending with the shortened open prevents an effective conclusion. Crashaw does remain true to the Bible verse that clearly notes that a man must by his own volition enter. Thus, Christ's death will not profit the man who continues to doubt, choosing to close the door to an afterlife.
While none doubted Crashaw's fervent faith, and it remains in evidence in "I Am the Door," the verse supports his categorization as a second-tier poet. However, Crashaw could produce much more harmonious and less self-conscious poetry, as in his celebrated, Description of a Religious House.
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