Rowan Williams, “Resurrection: Borgo San Sepolcro”

We read Rowan Williams on the politics of the empty tomb this past Thursday in a seminar I’m in titled “Resurrection, Reality, and the Re-Shaping of Theology.” Before each class begins, one us students presents a piece of artwork and offers a few brief reflections which, in some way, are related to what we’ve read and discussed this semester. Since we already were going to be discussing the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought Williams’s poem “Resurrection: Borgo San Sepolcro” was a rather fitting segue into the day’s material.

The poem is the result of Williams’s ponderings on Jesus’ resurrection as depicted in Piero della Francesca’s fresco painting “Resurrection” (c.1460). You’ll do well to create a dialogue between the two pieces to better appreciate Williams’ words and, in my opinion, Francesca’s painting. (My class and I all agreed that Francesca’s fresco was hardly our favorite work of art with Jesus’ resurrection as its subject. But Williams’s appreciation–he thinks it the best painting on the resurrection–and poetic analysis of it made most of us second guess our own evaluations.)

Today it is time. Warm enough, finally
to ease the lids apart, the wax lips of a breaking bud
defeated by the steady push, hour after hour,
opening to show wet and dark, a tongue exploring,
an eye shrinking against the dawn. Light
like a fishing line draws its catch straight up,
then slackens for a second. The flat foot drops,
the shoulders sags. Here is the world again, well-known,
the dawn greeted in snoring dreams of a familiar
winter everyone prefers. So the black eyes
fixed half-open, start to search, ravenous,
imperative, they look for pits, for hollows where
their flood can be decanted, look
for rooms ready for commandeering, ready
to be defeated by the push, the green implacable
rising. So he pauses, gathering the strength
in his flat foot, as the perspective buckles under him,
and the dreamers lean dangerously inwards. Contained,
exhausted, hungry, death running off his limbs like
from a shower, gathering himself. We wait,
paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring.
Rowan Williams, Headwaters (2008)

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