Salvador Dali: Christ of St John of the Cross

Salvador Dali: Christ of St John of the Cross
It is not of this world, and yet it is,
And that is how it should be.
Strong light hits back and the arms
Coming from where we cannot see,
Ought not to see, another dimension
For another time. At this time, we
Share the life of bay and boat
With simply painted fishermen
Who give no Amen
Even if clouds both apocalyptic and real
Made them look up and feel
What they had to feel
Of shattering amazement, fear, 
Protection, and a wash of glory.
Was it an end coming near?
Was it a beginning coming near?
What happened to the thorns and blood and sweat?
What happened to the hands like claws the whipcord muscles?
Has the artist never seen Grünewald?
'I have to tell you John of the cross called,
Said to remind you light and death once met.'
Edwin Morgan

from A Book of Lives (Manchester: Carcanet, 2007)

Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Edwin Morgan

Born in Glasgow, Edwin Morgan lived there all his life, except for service with the RAMC. Although his poetry is grounded in the city, the title of his 1973 collection, From Glasgow to Saturn, suggests the enormous range of Morgan's subject matter. He was Glasgow's first Poet Laureate 1999-2002, and the first to hold the post of 'Scots Makar', created by the Scottish Executive in 2004 to recognise the achievement of Scottish poets throughout the centuries.

Read more about this poet
About Salvador Dali: Christ of St John of the Cross

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2007. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2007 was Alan Spence.

Editor's comment: 
Edwin Morgan is our finest living poet, still producing beautiful work at the age of 87. The opening line is vintage Morgan - a zen paradox in perfect iambic pentameter. The rest of the poem is a meditation on the subject matter with a neat dialectic switch at the end. Only Eddie could have written the final couplet, both conversational and transcendent.

The winner of The Herald's poll to find the ten favourite paintings in Scottish public collections was Salvador Dali's mysterious, beautiful and controversial Christ of St John of the Cross, from Glasgow's own collection. This painting, bought for the city by Dr Tom Honeyman in 1951 for £8,200, a princely sum in the time of post-war austerity, was instantly taken to the hearts of Glaswegians and has continued to be viewed by successive generations of citizens with fierce proprietorial pride.
Morgan's poem captures the juxtaposition of transcendental and commonplace in the sky-suspended Christ figure and the uninvolved fishermen below. It coments, too, on the curious lack of overt suffering in the crucified god man – 'What happened to the thorns and blood and sweat?'

Lesley Duncan, Poetry Editor, The Herald