The analysis of James Wright’s Saint Judas Saint Judas was written by James Wright at the end of the 60s. Considering the format this poem can be regarded as a traditional Petrarchan sonnet with a rhyme of ababcdcdefgefg; however, the content of this poem and the way it was written is different. In this poem James Wright tried to mix the dramatic monologue with the Petrarchan sonnet, which is usually written in poet’s tone. Instead in this poem, the speaker is Judas: this enables the revealing of his thoughts and actions directly to the reader, so as to enhance his temperament and character.
The first half of the sonnet starts with Judas’s intention to suicide:” When I went out to kill myself, I caught/ A pack of hoodlums beating up a man. / Running to spare his suffering, I forgot/ My names, my numbers, how my day began,” Judas, on his way to kill to kill himself in order to escape from roman soldier’s arrest, has come across a man who has been beaten by a gang of thugs and left to die, and in his rush to assist the poor man, he forgets his own condition.
The next four lines jumped to his reminiscence,” How soldiers milled around the garden stone/ And sang amusing songs; how all that day/ Their javalins measured crowds; how I alone/ Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away. ” Judas recalled the scene from the past where he betrays the man he’s spent the past three years of his life following and learning from. Judas realizes how damned he truly is and the conflict that creates with the man he’s trying to save. In the final 6 lines, Judas comes to face his own damnation, and makes up his mind that his condition is no reason to allow another man to suffer the pain. Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,/ Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope/ Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms: / Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten, /The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope, / I held the man for nothing in my arms. ” With his realization of his own state and fate Judas still makes the bold move to care for the broken man in front of Roman guards who clearly can identify Judas as the one who sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
When talking about the rhythmic and formal features, the large amount of enjambment use should be mentioned. Here the enjambments are not only used to keep the format of a Petrarchan; it is also used to reflect Judas’s quick actions and changing minds and also the how short whole issue lasts. For example, “…I caught/ A pack of hoodlums beating up a man”, the break of the first line illustrate the “caught”, the suddenness of Judas’s awareness of the issue. …I forgot/ My name, my number, how my days began”, here the sudden break of the third line leaves a little blank for reader’s reading experience, which more or less imitates that feeling of sudden forgetting because of a emergency issue. The break of the tenth line, “Dropping my rope/ Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:”, breaks the phrase “drop my rope aside” into two parts. Compared to the previous enjambments, this break has more to do with its upcoming context than its previous context.
The continuity tone of “ Aside, I ran” illustrates Judas’s continuing actions without hesitating, which strengthened his character. Besides these enjambments, the actions Judas takes are also written in a continuing manner: “went out”, “ spare his suffering”, “Dropping my rope”, these phrases have a certain rhythmic relationship, such as consonance, between their words; James Wright may have done this on purpose, in order to make these action phrases read faster and seemingly shorter.
Both the enjambments and these rhythmic verbal phrases try to add this rushing and pausing quality to the poem. Considering the form structure of the poem, Saint Judas can be viewed as many fragment thoughts inserting into the certain description of issue which breaks and promotes the short timeline of the issue at the same time. These thoughts’ form reminds readers of flashback scenes of the movies: they both add another time dimension onto an action that lasts for really short time, making it seem longer, while actually it doesn’t.
Readers are aware of this ambiguity. Here the heaviest flashback thoughts and the short-lasting issue set up a continuing contrast throughout the poem, which enchants its effect. Besides using certain rhythmic devices to create the fragrant timeline of the poem, James Wright also uses other rhythmic devices for different purposes. These details finally established a subtle rhyme scheme. For example, the only use of alliteration in the poem is third line’s “spare his suffering”, where the “suffering” seems to be really spared by its initial consonant sounds.
In the thirteenth line, “flesh” and “flayed” connect the two sentences, enabling a much more smooth tone of the last sentence with a feeling of a tragedy ending. Some consonances are also interesting. Besides what have already been mentioned before, “victim beaten” in ninth line uses the “en” sound to imitate the stuffy voice of beating someone. Assonance is also used in the twelfth line “ when I remembered bread my flesh had eaten”; “ bread” here is used as a metaphor of Jesus, so along with this assonance, a relation ship between “bread” and “flesh” is clearly shown.
When talking about rhymes, what James Wright did also adds more subtlety to the poem. Usually in a sonnet a nice formatted rhyme is already enough; however, James Wright tried to add counterpoint relationship to end-rhymes, making the whole poem more complex and bind even more tightly. For example, “stone” and “alone” in fourth line and sixth line uses stone’s character to illustrate the loneliness. In the last six lines this kind of relationship becomes more intense.
In the ninth line and twelfth line, “beaten” and “eaten”, with their previous words, established the analogy between innocent Jesus and innocent beaten man. In the tenth line and thirteenth “rope” and “hope” also have meaning connection. Rope makes people think of the ropes that are used to save people and it also reminds people of ropes that are used to suicide. Here this “rope” has both meaning at the same time. It is the rope Judas meant to use to suicide; however, it also represents an acceptable way of death, the only hope that Judas can pursue. Dropping that rope” means “without hope”, without this rope Judas gives up his last dignity just to take care of that man. The double meaning of the “rope” and the “hope” it represents here illustrated Judas’s true character and also render his tragic condition even more. In the eleventh line and fourteenth line, the slant rhyme between “uniforms” and “arms” successfully serves as book ends around his memory of the betrayal, “ uniform” being strong, cold, and uncaring while “arms” is compassionate mourning and sincere.
James Wright is also good at using ordinary words to offer double interpretations. The relationship of “rope” and “hope” is just one of them. “Slipped” in eighth line not only means the slipping-away action after Judas has finished the trade, it also implies the slipping-away of the memory, which anticipates the content below. Then comes the “nothing” in the fourteenth line. Here it has three meanings at the same time, with the connection to the previous content and how readers understand the ambiguous word arrangement of the last line.
If readers divide the line into “I held the man/ for nothing in my arms”, this “nothing” describes literally that Judas has nothing in his arms (he has already thrown the rope); however, it can be also interpreted that this “nothing” implies Judas’s condition: he has no hope to pursue, nowhere to hide and no way to rescue himself. He has nothing. If readers divide the line into “ I held the man for nothing/ in my arms”, it can be interpreted that although Judas’s action to care for that man won’t do any good to himself (actually put himself in danger), he still decides to do it, for nothing.
This triple meanings of “nothing” overlap here in the last line and makes reader think of what kind of person Judas truly is in contrast to the evil thing he has done before. No matter what kind of damned person he has been, at this moment he is the Saint Judas; he gives help to others without asking for reward, like other Saints did. Judas may have also done this before, but the kindness he used to have is obliterated by his fault, his betrayal to his “bread” because of “a kiss”. After that, people cannot see whatever generous and kind things he has done. They choose not to see it.
However, Judas’s destination is predetermined. His sole purpose in life was to betray Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, thus confirming his damnation. Without Judas’s Betrayal, Jesus would not be crucified , and no resurrection and Christianity would happen. In order for Jesus to fill his role as a savior, Judas Had to get screwed, regardless of what compassion he may have shown and how kind he used to be. Considering this, James Wright is trying to add layers of characters to the Judas, so as to humanize it and make people rethink about their own value.
Cite this Analysis of Saint Judas
Analysis of Saint Judas. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-of-saint-judas/