A Pietà

Image: Carlo Crivelli, Pieta (c. 1476). Tempera on wood, gold ground. 71.8 x 64.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gallery 627. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/436053?=&imgno=0&tabname=label , 23 September 2015.

Carlo Crivelli

Lord Dudley's Collection
 

A MOTHER bent on the body of her Son,
Fierce tears and wrinkles around her eyes,—
She has open, stiffened lips
And an almost lolling tongue,
But her face is full of cries :
Almost it seems that the dead has done her wrong,
Almost it seems in her strife
Of passion she would shake the dead to life.
His body has been sold
For silver and crucified ; but He—
She laughs—from death He can recover ;
E'en now whatever He saith shall be :
She will win Him, He shall kiss and love her.

His body, once blond, is soiled now and opaque
With the solemn ochres of the tomb ;
The thorns on his brow are green
And their fine tips folded in
(Through the forehead forcing room)
By a swathe of the delicate, lifted skin :
The half-closed eyes show grey,
Leaden fissures ; the dead man's face is clay ;
And though the lips for breath
Leave room, there is no breathing, nor are
They gaping eagerly ; but parted
And vacant as a house-door left ajar,
From which the owner of the house has started.

A loin-cloth many-folded is on his thighs ;
One hand has fall'n crookt across the hood
Of his mother, one is held
With awe by the Magdalen,
Who darkly has understood
From the prayer on the cross, Christ must die for men,
That He once made hearts to burn
By the way He is touched alone we learn ;
No beauty to desire
Is here—stiffened limb and angry vein
And a belt, 'neath the hirsute nipple,
Of flesh that, flaccid and dragged from the strain
Of the cross, swells the waist with sinuous ripple.

Yet there is such subtle intercourse between
The hues and the passion is so frank
One is soothed, one feels it good
To be of this little group
Of mourners close to the rank,
Deep wounds, as to tend their unclean dead they stoop.
How softly falls in a streak
Christ's blanched tress toward his Mother's tear-burnt cheek :
And how her sleeve of peach
That crosses the corpse's grimy gold
Gives it lustre ! Her dark-hued kirtle
Is of the green that clouded sea-pools hold ;
Her hood takes light like smooth leaves of the myrtle.

'Neath the third halo, wrought on a burnished ground
Of leafy stamp, is John's wailing face :
He shrieks ; but he does not lift
The body into the grave :
Beside him in noble grace
Bows the Magdalen, who, putting forth a brave
Hand, 'twixt her finger and thumb
Lifts the Redeemer's arm and with a dumb
Wonder looks in the hole
Scooped by the large, round nail : So they hurt
What one loves ! Yet about this silent creature's
Suppression there is promise ; an alert
And moving faith prompts the vigilant features.

O glorious spring of the brow, simple arch
Of the head that once was sunk so low
With the outpoured box of nard !
O solemn, dun-crimson mass
Of hair, on the indigo
Of the bodice that in curling wave doth pass !
How exquisite, set between
This blue and a vest of translucent green, 
The glimpse of scarlet belt ;
Or the glow, the almost emerald line.
Round the neck where the hood bends over
Such faint reds of the mantle as incline
To the sorrel- seed or the ripened clover !

So it comes to pass that to this reticent
And tender woman there is given sight
Of Christ new-born from the tomb :
The mother sees not her Son
In whom her soul doth delight,
She knows Him not, nor the work his cross hath done :
But to Mary with the sealed
Lips and hard patience Jesus is revealed.
His mother clasps his form,
Craving for miracle and must lack
For ever response to her passion :
The dead, if indeed we would win them back, 
Must be won in their own love's larger fashion.

 

Carlo Crivelli

Lord Dudley's Collection
 

A MOTHER bent on the body of her Son,
Fierce tears and wrinkles around her eyes,—
She has open, stiffened lips
And an almost lolling tongue,
But her face is full of cries :
Almost it seems that the dead has done her wrong,
Almost it seems in her strife
Of passion she would shake the dead to life.
His body has been sold
For silver and crucified ; but He—
She laughs—from death He can recover ;
E'en now whatever He saith shall be :
She will win Him, He shall kiss and love her.

His body, once blond, is soiled now and opaque
With the solemn ochres of the tomb ;
The thorns on his brow are green
And their fine tips folded in
(Through the forehead forcing room)
By a swathe of the delicate, lifted skin :
The half-closed eyes show grey,
Leaden fissures ; the dead man's face is clay ;
And though the lips for breath
Leave room, there is no breathing, nor are
They gaping eagerly ; but parted
And vacant as a house-door left ajar,
From which the owner of the house has started.

A loin-cloth many-folded is on his thighs ;
One hand has fall'n crookt across the hood
Of his mother, one is held
With awe by the Magdalen,
Who darkly has understood
From the prayer on the cross, Christ must die for men,
That He once made hearts to burn
By the way He is touched alone we learn ;
No beauty to desire
Is here—stiffened limb and angry vein
And a belt, 'neath the hirsute nipple,
Of flesh that, flaccid and dragged from the strain
Of the cross, swells the waist with sinuous ripple.

Yet there is such subtle intercourse between
The hues and the passion is so frank
One is soothed, one feels it good
To be of this little group
Of mourners close to the rank,
Deep wounds, as to tend their unclean dead they stoop.
How softly falls in a streak
Christ's blanched tress toward his Mother's tear-burnt cheek :
And how her sleeve of peach
That crosses the corpse's grimy gold
Gives it lustre ! Her dark-hued kirtle
Is of the green that clouded sea-pools hold ;
Her hood takes light like smooth leaves of the myrtle.

'Neath the third halo, wrought on a burnished ground
Of leafy stamp, is John's wailing face :
He shrieks ; but he does not lift
The body into the grave :
Beside him in noble grace
Bows the Magdalen, who, putting forth a brave
Hand, 'twixt her finger and thumb
Lifts the Redeemer's arm and with a dumb
Wonder looks in the hole
Scooped by the large, round nail : So they hurt
What one loves ! Yet about this silent creature's
Suppression there is promise ; an alert
And moving faith prompts the vigilant features.

O glorious spring of the brow, simple arch
Of the head that once was sunk so low
With the outpoured box of nard !
O solemn, dun-crimson mass
Of hair, on the indigo
Of the bodice that in curling wave doth pass !
How exquisite, set between
This blue and a vest of translucent green, 
The glimpse of scarlet belt ;
Or the glow, the almost emerald line.
Round the neck where the hood bends over
Such faint reds of the mantle as incline
To the sorrel- seed or the ripened clover !

So it comes to pass that to this reticent
And tender woman there is given sight
Of Christ new-born from the tomb :
The mother sees not her Son
In whom her soul doth delight,
She knows Him not, nor the work his cross hath done :
But to Mary with the sealed
Lips and hard patience Jesus is revealed.
His mother clasps his form,
Craving for miracle and must lack
For ever response to her passion :
The dead, if indeed we would win them back, 
Must be won in their own love's larger fashion.