12 April 2006


Most of the lost Gnostic text the Gospel of Judas has been recently recovered by the National Geographic Society, and they are just now making it available. There are maddening gaps in the text, but what survives is astonishing: full of mystical imagery ... and a defense of Judas.
Jesus ... said to him, “... you will grieve much when you see the kingdom and all its generation.”

When he heard this, Judas said to him, “What good is it that I have received it? For you have set me apart for that generation.”

Jesus answered and said, “You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy [generation].”

Jesus also tells Judas:
.... you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.

In a synchronicity, I was reading a little bit of poet Elinor Wylie a few days back. She was hugely popular in the 1920s and has since been almost forgotten; it's possible that I may be the last person living to have some of her poems by heart. All of her poems have vivid imagery, and several wrestle with theological questions. Reading her earlier this week, I transcribed one of those to publish here, perhaps as a provocation on Œster. But in honour of this new document from the Gnostics, I'll put it up now.

Peter and John

Twelve good friends
Walked under the leaves,
Binding the ends
Of the barley sheaves.

Peter and John
Lay down to sleep
Pillowed upon
A haymaker's heap.

John and Peter
Lay down to dream.
The air was sweeter
Than honey and cream.

Peter was bred
In the salty cold:
His hair was red
And his eyes were gold.

John had a mouth
Like a wing bent down:
His brow was smooth
Ahd his eyes were brown.

Peter to slumber
Sank like a stone,
Of all of their number
The bravest one.

John more slowly
Composed himself,
Young and holy
Among the Twelve.

John as he slept
Cried out in grief,
Turned and wept
On the golden leaf:

“Peter, Peter,
Stretch me your hand
Across the glitter
Of the harvest land!

“Peter, Peter,
Give me a sign!
This was a bitter
Dream of mine—

“Bitter as aloes
It parched my tongue.
Upon the gallows
My life was hung.

“Sharp it seemd
As a bloody sword.
Peter, I dreamed
I was Christ the Lord!”

Peter turned
To holy Saint John:
His body burned
In the failing sun.

In the failing sun
He burned like flame:
“John, Saint John,
I have dreamed the same!

“My bones were hung
On an elder tree;
Bells were rung
Over Galilee.

“A silver penny
Sealed each of my eyes.
Many and many
A cock crew thrice.”

When Peter's word
Was spoken and done,
“Were you Christ the Lord
In your dream?” said John.

“No,” said the other,
“That I was not.
I was our brother


rjeffy said...

You're not quite the last remaining person who has some Elinor Wylie memorized. I find "Peter and John" so deceptively simple, but I can't read the last stanza without the hair on my arms standing up.

Jonathan Korman said...

I find it rather reassuring that I'm not alone in this peculiarity.

And I should confess, "Peter and John" isn't a poem I have by heart. I know "Sanctuary" and the "The Good Birds," and mean to someday memorize "Incantation."