And Jesus wept.
But John baptized,
while Simon Magus
(And, oh! What eyes
that Helen kept like doves
among her locks,
and honeyed lips of scarlet thread,
such roses budding
on her breasts!)
Invoking canticles of dread –
and clever men, in time,
in time, would put her
to the test.
And sultry eyes had Magdalen
who stood beneath the cross.
(And, oh!  What tears
that Mary shed
to find her loved one lost
and dead, who sought her
in the market-place,
and on her face laid trembling hand!)
But whorish and immoral eyes,
said learned men in holy guise,
in time, in time.
And in that desert
they would beat a road
that led unto God’s feet –
while the cock crowed, and Death
mowed with his scythe,
and flowers grew.  And the world
pursued its ways.
Ten thousand souls
were crucified: the old earth spun
its weary course
about the sun.

Note: Simon Magus, famous for his confrontation with the apostle Peter in Acts viii, 924 and vilified as a charlatan by the later Church Fathers, is said to have been accompanied by a beautiful Tyrian woman, Helen. She was described by church heresiologists – as was Mary Magdalen – as a prostitute (a favourite label and defence mechanism of early orthodox Christian writers). The imagery relating to her I have taken from the description of the Shulamite Maid in the Shir haShirim (Song of Songs / Canticle of Canticles / Song of Solomon’). It is interesting, too, that the ‘Song’ is, in the Gospel of John, apparently used in reference to Mary Magdalen.The last eleven lines of the poem are by way of a universal sketch of the setting for subsequent developments. In the lines ‘And in that desert / they would build a road / that led unto God’s feet’, the ‘would’ here, has the meaning of ‘wished / proposed / intended to’.

From ‘Of Gods and Men’

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