John Updike isn’t exactly my go-to source for theological reflections, but I love this poem he wrote for a religious arts festival many years ago and wanted to share it with you.
Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

  • Fellow Traveler
    1:12 PM, 23 April 2011

    This has been a favorite of mine for a while. I love how it absolutely refuses to let folks get away with any mystical nonsense about how “resurrection” is about “rebirth” and “new life inside,” disregarding the physical reality of what happened. It seems that “resurrection” has come to replace “the resurrection” these days. A small change, it would seem, insignificant, but very significant indeed. Come to think of it, there are hints of Gnosticism in that–wanting to shy away from the physical and focus completely on the spiritual.
    Let us not mock God with metaphor,
    analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
    making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
    faded credulity of earlier ages:
    let us walk through the door.

    Ouch. Indeed. Amen.

  • Jess
    4:01 PM, 23 April 2011

    Two thumbs up. Although that seems irreverent to such an awesome poem. In any case, I like it. 🙂

  • Loren
    7:42 PM, 23 April 2011

    It’s all true! He is risen indeed!
    What a great poem and reminder.

  • […] When I tried to find the poem that captured this tangible reality of the resurrection I kept coming back to Jonathan Rogers’ yesterday post of John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter”. […]

  • Canaan Bound
    10:49 PM, 24 April 2011

    If I didn’t know this was by John Updike, I’d imagine it Taylor Mali style. (Confession: I have a secret obsession with slam poetry.)

  • Fellow Traveler
    12:53 AM, 25 April 2011

    Uh-oh. Now I’ve got Taylor Mali doing this in my head…

  • Laura Peterson
    1:09 AM, 25 April 2011

    Hadn’t read this before….but it might be a new favorite. Thank you for sharing.
    Canaan Bound – slam poetry. Yes!

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    8:35 PM, 25 April 2011

    Canaan Bound!!!!! No!!!!! Bahahaa!

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    8:38 PM, 25 April 2011

    I want to see Taylor Mali doing Emily Dickinson poems. I might actually like them that way.

  • Fellow Traveler
    9:20 PM, 25 April 2011

    Hey, hey, who’s knocking Emily Dickinson? 😉 Or are you saying that you like them by themselves too? 🙂

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    10:19 PM, 25 April 2011

    No. I don’t like her poetry at all.
    Maybe that’s because you can sing almost all of her work to “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. Try it:

    I heard a fly buzz when I died;
    The stillness round my form
    Was like the stillness in the air
    Between the heaves of storm.

    The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
    And breaths were gathering sure
    For that last onset, when the king
    Be witnessed in his power.

    I willed my keepsakes, signed away
    What portion of me I
    Could make assignable,-and then
    There interposed a fly,

    With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
    Between the light and me;
    And then the windows failed, and then
    I could not see to see.

  • Fellow Traveler
    10:55 PM, 25 April 2011

    Huh. You don’t even like this one?

    Because I could not stop for Death,
    He kindly stopped for me;
    The carriage held but just ourselves
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
    And I had put away
    My labor, and my leisure too,
    For his civility.

    We passed the school, where children strove
    At recess, in the ring;
    We passed the fields of gazing grain,
    We passed the setting sun.

    Or rather, he passed us;
    The dews grew quivering and chill,
    For only gossamer my gown,
    My tippet only tulle.

    We paused before a house that seemed
    A swelling of the ground;
    The roof was scarcely visible,
    The cornice but a mound.

    Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
    Feels shorter than the day
    I first surmised the horses’ heads
    Were toward eternity.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    11:15 PM, 25 April 2011

    Heavens, no. I’d rather read William McGonagall. She reminds me of Helen Steiner Rice. Her rhymes are so forced, they make my skin crawl. ‘Probably my least favorite poet of all time. (My friends know this, so they buy me her books at yard sales. Dorks.) I feel like I’m being ungracious, so I’m trying to think of a gentler way to word my feelings…

    • Jonathan Rogers
      11:32 AM, 26 April 2011

      Emily Dickinson has never been one of my favorites, but she doesn’t raise the same antipathy in me that she raises in you, BuckBuck. The fact that you can sing her poems to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (you can also sing them to the Gilligan’s Island theme song or “Amazing Grace” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”) is a positive rather than a negative, don’t you think? In theory, at least, I like the fact that she wrote in common meter (8:6:8:6)–the meter of hymns and popular songs. But, like you, BuckBuck, I’m not always crazy about the end result. It does seem a little strained.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    11:21 PM, 25 April 2011
    Here’s a video my kids made last year of one of her poems. (I’ll probably return the settings to “private” in a few days, but this is basically what I hear every time I read anything of hers..)

  • Fellow Traveler
    12:18 AM, 26 April 2011

    I personally like the clean simplicity of her style. I think it can be easy to read through one of her poems quickly and say, “Okay, moving on,” without realizing that she’s just said something really, really profound.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    12:48 AM, 26 April 2011

    Man, I just tried giving her another shot. Ugh.
    She’s just fingernails on my chalkboard for some reason. I feel awful saying that, because several of my friends love her. There’s just something about the way she makes poems that makes my skin crawl. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. Tigger writes a very dark, sad poem.

    It’s not just the meter. It’s also the predictability and self-absorbed angst. If John Donne had used 8:6:8:6, surely he could have rocked it.

    OK, later today, I’m going to try to mess with 8:6:8:6 and see how hard it is to write using that form. I’ll likely come crawling back with my tail between my legs. 🙂

    CB, I opened a few videos for you. ‘Couldn’t find all that I thought were there, though. Stinky mouth cracks me up, too.

  • Canaan Bound
    2:19 AM, 26 April 2011

    Oh, BuckBuck! Your kids are brilliant! Hope you don’t mind I’m checking out your home vids on youtube…Stinky Mouth is already a fav.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    11:04 AM, 26 April 2011

    I don’t mind. But give me a few hours to open up some privacy settings. Some of the best ones are listed as private right now, but I’ve got to run the kids to school. 🙂

  • Fellow Traveler
    2:10 PM, 26 April 2011

    Okay. 🙂

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    2:32 PM, 26 April 2011

    As I’m writing this post, a toddler is shooting his Nerf gun at me. He’s asking me to recock it every three seconds, so I’m apologizing ahead of time for the inevitable errors. (His nap time is already committed to notes on a Sayers book. 🙂 )
    I’ve been reading that Watts’s hymns were adopted in the church where Dickinson grew up. Supposedly that was a big influence on her? One writer suggests that she was being a renegade, since iambic pentameter was the fashion. I can’t help but wish she would have just tattooed something.

    From reading briefly this morning (amid a shower of Nerf bullets), I think maybe the iambs are part of my issue? Her poems that irk me most seem to stick too closely to the form. Throwing in some dactyls, anapests, etc., seems to make the whole thing flow so much more naturally.

    Part of the reason I am partial to the Petrarchan sonnet is because you don’t get that sing-song effect. There is enough structure to hold things together without the rhyme becoming too predictable.

    My best fifteen-minute shot at the 8:6:8:6 is below. I broke up some of the iambs, but the rhyme is still too tight for me.

    The morning light steps a child’s dance
    into the rain-soft earth
    Sparrows matin-full of romance
    Hymn ancient gospel mirth.

  • Jess
    2:56 PM, 26 April 2011

    😮 I’m shocked. I love Emily Dickinson. She’s one of my favorite poets! I mean, look:
    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.


    There is no Frigate like a Book
    To take us Lands away,
    Nor any Coursers like a Page
    Of prancing Poetry –
    This Traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of Toll –
    How frugal is the Chariot
    That bears a Human soul.

    There’s another one on old books that is delicious, but I couldn’t remember enough of it to do a good google, and I don’t yet own a volume of her poetry (I get it from the library for now).

    Anyway, the sad thing is that I really like BuckBuck/Becca too, so I can’t hate her for her hatred of Dickinson. 😉 Actually I think I like her all the more because she is the first person I have ever heard (or read) admitting she doesn’t like–no, she HATES–Dickinson. I wasn’t even aware of the possibility until today. So thanks BuckBuck for expanding my view of the world. 😉

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    3:02 PM, 26 April 2011

    Jess! You can have my Dickinson books!!! (As long as I can find them.) It would make me happy for someone who loves her to have them!
    Here’s my email. Message me if you want them. 🙂

  • Jonathan Rogers
    3:03 PM, 26 April 2011

    I like what you’re doing with the 8:6:8:6 form, BuckBuck. But you’re also inspiring me to defend Emily Dickinson. She locked herself into that somewhat sing-songy hymnic form because she wanted to. She was speaking her native tongue, using familiar forms to say new things (granted, self-absorbed and angsty things, but she didn’t get out much, and I appreciate what she was trying to do). There’s something very American in her project. Unlike your fancy-pants Petrarchan sonnets, BuckBuck.

  • Jonathan Rogers
    3:09 PM, 26 April 2011

    I should clarify that I wasn’t impugning your patriotism in my last comment, BuckBuck. I was joking, but I can’t bring myself to do the smiley faces. It is a squeamishness that will surely get me in trouble one of these days, if it hasn’t already.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    3:17 PM, 26 April 2011

    Maybe we should talk about haikus.

  • Jess
    3:26 PM, 26 April 2011

    Really? Thanks so much, BuckBuck! I’ll write you. 🙂
    Mr. Rogers: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 😉

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    3:34 PM, 26 April 2011

    😐 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 :(:| 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 🙁
    😐 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 🙁
    😐 🙁 😐 🙁 😐 🙁

    Emily Dickinson does emoticons.

  • Jonathan Rogers
    4:30 PM, 26 April 2011

    That’s funny, BuckBuck. It took me a minute to notice that none of the emoticons were smiley faces.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    5:08 PM, 26 April 2011

    This is vital:

    Iamb: 😐 🙁
    Trochee: 🙁 😐
    Spondee: 🙁 🙁
    Pyrrhic: 😐 😐
    Tribrach: 😐 😐 😐
    Anapest: 😐 😐 🙁
    Dactyl: 🙁 😐 😐
    Amphibrach: 😐 🙁 😐
    Bacchius: 😐 🙁 🙁
    Antibacchius: 🙁 🙁 😐

  • Jess
    5:16 PM, 26 April 2011


  • Dryad
    8:10 PM, 26 April 2011

    Method for teaching poetry in the post-modern world: emoticons.

  • Canaan Bound
    12:05 AM, 27 April 2011

    BuckBuck, you need to ditch those privacy settings for good. The singing chins is the next youtube sensation. And that wonderdog vid is likely to go viral. Seriously. Think about it.

  • Fellow Traveler
    12:10 AM, 27 April 2011

    Loren, I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a great poet, but I did write part of a sonnet once. I still have to figure out how the third stanza is going to work….

  • Loren
    2:13 AM, 27 April 2011

    Whoo Hoo! Just got done with a great English lesson! Reminds me of the days when I had to teach a unit on poetry and get 10th graders to compile their own poetry book…including writing a for-real sonnet, iambic pentameter and all. Dryad–great idea about using emoticons for teaching meter!
    I’m reserving judgment on Emily. I had a student of the same name who considered herself a great poet yet couldn’t pull off a sonnet. I tried to get her to do a complare/contrast paper on Dickinson and um, I think Robert Frost…. It didn’t work out very well.

    Oh dear. Nasty teacher-student memories arising. Better sign off and check out some fun BuckBuck youtube videos!

  • sally apokedak
    2:37 PM, 27 April 2011

    Oh man. How did I miss this post? So funny. I was singing Dickinson to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. And then I got to Jonathan’s comment and switched to Gilligan’s Island. Now I have to check out Buck Buck’s home videos.

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