If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.
But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.
A. E. Housman
Alfred Edward Housman (1859 –1936), was an English classical scholar and poet, whose verse exerted a strong influence on later poets.
He became an atheist while still a teenager, just after his mother’s death of breast cancer: during her long illness, he had prayed a lot for her recovery, but to no avail.
Although Housman left the church, he remained emotionally attached to that past when he was a believer, and this hymn shows the unbeliever longing to believe, if given good reason to.
These verses speak of doubt (“if”), addressing Jesus directly. If a human Jesus is on the cross , unaware of the sectarian animosities He unwittingly fanned, then He may rest in peace.
If a divine Saviour now reigns in Heaven , and still remembers His suffering on the cross , then He should act on His promises, realizing He is needed once more on Earth.
Se in quel giardino siriaco , ucciso da secoli,
dormi e non sai di essere morto invano,
e neppure in sogno vedi quanto scuro e luminoso
ascenda in fumo e fuoco, giorno e notte,
l’’odio che sei morto per estinguere ma che hai potuto solo alimentare,
allora dormi bene e non ti svegliare al mattino, figlio dell’uomo.
Ma se, aperta la tomba, rotolata la pietra,
siedi alla destra della maestà celeste
e così sedendo ricordi ancora
le tue lacrime, l’agonia, il sudar sangue,
e la tua croce, la passione e la vita che hai donato,
allora volgiti qui dal cielo: guarda e vieni a salvarci.
Image: Piero della Francesca – The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1463 /1465)