A punishing infancy

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ – Luke 2:34,35

This poem by Carol Ann Duffy (inspired by the Max Ernst painting at the bottom of this page, from which this copy of the poem is taken) is probably wildly heretical in any number of ways, but (giving Duffy due allowance under her poetic licence) it captures the alarming nature of the incarnation, the decidedly mixed blessing of being the mother of the incarnate God:

The Virgin Punishing the Infant

He spoke early. Not the goo goo goo of infancy,
but I am God. Joseph kept away, carving himself
a silent Pinocchio out in the workshed. He said
he was a simple man and hadn’t dreamed of this.

She grew anxious in that second year, would stare
at stars saying Gabriel, Gabriel. Your guess.
The village gossiped in the sun. The child was solitary,
his wide and solemn eyes could fill your head.

After he walked, our normal children crawled. Our wives
were first resentful, then superior. Mary’s child
would bring her sorrow … better far to have a son
who gurgled nonsense at your breast. Googoo. Googoo.

But I am God. We heard him through the window,
heard the smacks which made us peep. What we saw
was commonplace enough. But afterwards, we wondered
why the infant did not cry, why the Mother did.

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One Response to A punishing infancy

  1. Provocative. I like it. It is hard though to imagine Mary spanking Jesus. Isn’t exactly the motif you find in most Madonna and Child scenarios. You kind of wonder what did he do? What might have Jesus done that would have resulted in that?
    Mary of course, was not always the pillar of faith that many believe her to be. A sinner like us, Jesus died for her too. When Jesus started his ministry, satan came to stop him in the form of Mary and her other sons. (Those brothers of Jesus my exegesis prof. at seminary called uterine brothers, the first and only time I have heard that term.) They tried to bring him back to Nazareth, thinking him slightly cracked. So one wonders if this sin and unbelief in her led to an over reaction, an unjust punishment, a spanking given for something Jesus didn’t do. Perhaps his brothers blamed him for something they did. Something not uncommon for a brother to do. (And I imagine Jesus brothers grew tired of the “why can’t you be like your brother Jesus?”) Not that I think Jesus picked up and walked before what was normal. Jesus by all accounts led a pretty normal life growing up, nothing out of the ordinary. He was fully human. Hard to imagine.
    Definitely a painting and poem that make you think.

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