Saturday, December 19, 2015

I slipped His fingers, I escaped His feet

I heard this lovely poem recited at the end of a very complex lecture on theology and history by Charles Craigmile, but without attribution.  I googled the first line, and found it is often attributed to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, but kept looking, and found it in one of his addresses from 1940.  It is so lovely.  Some say the name of the poet doesn't matter, but she does. The Sheen source attributed it to Elizabeth Cheney (b. 1859).
"I slipped His fingers, I escaped His feet,
     I ran and hid, for Him I feared to meet.
     One day I passed Him, fettered on a Tree,
     He turned His Head, and looked, and beckoned me.

    "Neither by speed, nor strength could He prevail.
     Each hand and foot was pinioned by a nail.
     He could not run or clasp me if He tried,
     But with His eye, He bade me reach His side.

    "For pity's sake, thought I, I'll set you free.
     'Nay -- hold this cross,' He said, 'and follow me.
     This yoke is easy, this burden light,
     Not hard or grievous if you wear it tight.'

    "So did I follow Him Who could not move,
     An uncaught captive in the hands of Love."

         -- (Attributed to) Elizabeth Cheney (in a Sheen address found on a blog)

But I kept looking (it's a librarian thing) and found a version with a  different message attributed to Cheney--more evangelistic, perhaps more social justice, but without Christ's words. Neither poem provides the truth of the resurrection. The poet Cheney is best known for a small poem about birds and anxiety that appears on plaques. So perhaps the Sheen version and the Cheney version are not one, but different treatments of the same theme.

 Whenever there is silence around me
By day or by night—
I am startled by a cry.
It came down from the cross—
The first time I heard it.
I went out and searched—
And found a man in the throes of crucifixion,
And I said, “I will take you down,”
And I tried to take the nails out of his feet.
But he said, “Let them be,
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman, and every child
Come together to take me down.”
And I said, “But I cannot bear your cry.
What can I do?”
And he said, “Go about the world—
Tell every one that you meet—
There is a man on the cross.”

Elizabeth Cheney

Incidentally, not only is there a modern Elizabeth Cheney (daughter of the former vice president), but there was an English Elizabeth Cheney in the 15th century who because of her two marriages was the great-grandmother of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and Catherine Howard, three of the wives of King Henry VIII of England, thus making her great-great-grandmother to King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Her first husband was Sir Frederick Tilney, and her second husband was Sir John Say, Speaker of the House of Commons. She produced a total of nine children from both marriages.

Isn't the internet amazing? It's not often you can get a 15th century royal, a 19th century poet and a 20th century priest worked into the same article.


Sherry said...

Yes, the serendipitous connections are amazing, and especially facilitated by the internet. Thank for this series of connections and rabbit trails and poetry.

Benedicto Simon said...

Thank you I was looking for the poem the first time I heard the words from on of the Bishop Sheen's lectures. Stay blessed