The Blood of the Redeemer

Image: Giovanni Bellini, The Blood of the Redeemer (c. 1460). Egg on poplar. 47 x 34.3 cm. The National Gallery, London 1887. Room 62.http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/giovanni-bellini-the-blood-of-the-redeemer, 23 September 2015.

Giovanni Bellini

The National Gallery
 

SUNRISE is close: the upper sky is blue
That has been darkness ; and the day is new,
Bleaching yon little town : where the white hue,
Spread blank on the horizon, skirts
The night-mass there is strife and wavy rush
Of beams in flush.

But, as the amber-spotted clouds unroll, 
One stands in shade of a dark aureole ;
His deeply-folded loin-cloth and His whole
Wan body by the changing air
Made spectral, though the very wounds we see
Of Calvary.

Is He indeed the Christ ? Those transverse beams
Of yon high cross confine Him not ; it seems
Simply a token. Walking as in dreams
He has paced onward and holds forth
Indifferent. His pierced palm : O Life, O Clay,
Our fears allay !

But to the people wert Thou crucified ;
To eyes that see, behold, Thou dost abide
Dying for ever. Thus Thine Eastertide
Breaks over Thee,—the crown of thorn
Laid by, but the whole breaking heart in quick
Sorrow and sick.

The dawn is blue among the hills and white
Above their tops ; a gladness creeps in sight
Across the silver-russet slopes, but night
Obscures the mortal ebb and flow
Flushing Thy veins ; Thy lips in strife for breath
Are full of death.

For Thou art bleeding, bleeding; we can trace
Naught but a dizzy sickness in Thy face ;
Thine eyes behold us not, yet round the place
Whence flows Thy blood Thy conscious palm
With fervour of unbated will doth cling,
Forcing its spring.

Thou standest not on earth, but raised apart
On a stone terrace, rich in cunning art ;
Behind Thee, figures, diligent to start
An altar-flame, in low relief
Are traced on tablets of a marble ledge
At the floor's edge.

Blithe Pagan youths sculptured behind Thee go
Processional to sacrifice ; some blow
A horn, some feed the censer, none can know
What he should do ; but Thou dost give
Thyself and consecrate their rites, how vain,
O Lamb fresh slain !

Is it Thy Father's house, this pavement rare
Of chequered marbles, pale and brown, and there
For Thy beloved thus must Thou prepare
A place ?—Across the burnished floor,
Save that an uplift urn its stream hath stopped.
Thy blood had dropped.

Once crucified and once given to the crowd,
But to Thy Church for aye a Victim vowed, 
Thou dost not die, Thy head is never bowed
In death : we must be born again ;
Thus dying by our side from day to day
Thou art the Way.

An angel kneels beside, in yellow sleeves
And robe of lovely, limpid blue ; he heaves
With steady hand a chalice that receives
The torrent of the precious blood.
His ruddy hair, crisp, rising from the roots, 
Falls in volutes.

Was he the angel bidden to infuse
Strength, when the Saviour yearned and could not choose
To drink the cup ?—He has bright, scarlet shoes,
Plumes lit by the jay’s piercing blue, 
Yet kneels distressful service to perform
By this gaunt form.

One thing they have alike ; the curls that fleck
The angel's temples in profusion deck
His Master's, silken on the staring neck.
Marred Son of Man, Thou once wert fair
As Israel's ruddy King who faintest thus :
Thou drawest us.

There is no light athwart these eastern skies
For us, no joy it is that Thou dost rise—
Our hope, our strength is in Thy sacrifice :
To-day, to-morrow must Thou die,
For ever drawing all men to Thy feet,
O Love most sweet !

 

 

Giovanni Bellini

The National Gallery
 

SUNRISE is close: the upper sky is blue
That has been darkness ; and the day is new,
Bleaching yon little town : where the white hue,
Spread blank on the horizon, skirts
The night-mass there is strife and wavy rush
Of beams in flush.

But, as the amber-spotted clouds unroll, 
One stands in shade of a dark aureole ;
His deeply-folded loin-cloth and His whole
Wan body by the changing air
Made spectral, though the very wounds we see
Of Calvary.

Is He indeed the Christ ? Those transverse beams
Of yon high cross confine Him not ; it seems
Simply a token. Walking as in dreams
He has paced onward and holds forth
Indifferent. His pierced palm : O Life, O Clay,
Our fears allay !

But to the people wert Thou crucified ;
To eyes that see, behold, Thou dost abide
Dying for ever. Thus Thine Eastertide
Breaks over Thee,—the crown of thorn
Laid by, but the whole breaking heart in quick
Sorrow and sick.

The dawn is blue among the hills and white
Above their tops ; a gladness creeps in sight
Across the silver-russet slopes, but night
Obscures the mortal ebb and flow
Flushing Thy veins ; Thy lips in strife for breath
Are full of death.

For Thou art bleeding, bleeding; we can trace
Naught but a dizzy sickness in Thy face ;
Thine eyes behold us not, yet round the place
Whence flows Thy blood Thy conscious palm
With fervour of unbated will doth cling,
Forcing its spring.

Thou standest not on earth, but raised apart
On a stone terrace, rich in cunning art ;
Behind Thee, figures, diligent to start
An altar-flame, in low relief
Are traced on tablets of a marble ledge
At the floor's edge.

Blithe Pagan youths sculptured behind Thee go
Processional to sacrifice ; some blow
A horn, some feed the censer, none can know
What he should do ; but Thou dost give
Thyself and consecrate their rites, how vain,
O Lamb fresh slain !

Is it Thy Father's house, this pavement rare
Of chequered marbles, pale and brown, and there
For Thy beloved thus must Thou prepare
A place ?—Across the burnished floor,
Save that an uplift urn its stream hath stopped.
Thy blood had dropped.

Once crucified and once given to the crowd,
But to Thy Church for aye a Victim vowed, 
Thou dost not die, Thy head is never bowed
In death : we must be born again ;
Thus dying by our side from day to day
Thou art the Way.

An angel kneels beside, in yellow sleeves
And robe of lovely, limpid blue ; he heaves
With steady hand a chalice that receives
The torrent of the precious blood.
His ruddy hair, crisp, rising from the roots, 
Falls in volutes.

Was he the angel bidden to infuse
Strength, when the Saviour yearned and could not choose
To drink the cup ?—He has bright, scarlet shoes,
Plumes lit by the jay’s piercing blue, 
Yet kneels distressful service to perform
By this gaunt form.

One thing they have alike ; the curls that fleck
The angel's temples in profusion deck
His Master's, silken on the staring neck.
Marred Son of Man, Thou once wert fair
As Israel's ruddy King who faintest thus :
Thou drawest us.

There is no light athwart these eastern skies
For us, no joy it is that Thou dost rise—
Our hope, our strength is in Thy sacrifice :
To-day, to-morrow must Thou die,
For ever drawing all men to Thy feet,
O Love most sweet !