Easter Poems: A Short Compilation

While Easter is a day, it is also a season. Easter Sunday is the beginning of an extended time of reflection and meditation on the events of Christ’s Passion and its implications for our lives. Easter begins on Easter Sunday but extends forty more days until Ascension Day and then continues ten more days until the Day of Pentecost. Just as the disciples had forty days to linger with Christ and then ten more days to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we too as His followers have the opportunity to continue the celebration, deepen our wonder at His miraculous rising, and, through intimate time with Jesus, learn how to work out how His resurrection life informs and transforms all aspects of our lives.

So Easter is a day. And it’s a season. But, in another sense, Easter is also a new age that we all now inhabit until the return of Christ. Because of the events of that first Easter week and the continued work of Christ by His Spirit, every day becomes Easter for us as we inhabit the age of Easter inaugurated by Jesus those many years ago. Everything is dramatically different now. Death has been but to death. There is hope beyond the grave — a real, sturdy, and living hope found in the resurrected Christ, whom we will all follow and resemble in full at His return. As our pastor Ryan reminded us this past Sunday at Covenant Church, resurrection is now the “new normal.” Easter is a reality to live into each day. There is resurrection life to tap into each moment by the power of Christ’s Spirit, while we await the fullness of our own future resurrection.

Along these lines, here are three poems that capture this everyday Easter reality. May reflecting on them in the light of Scripture’s grand story of the Resurrection edify you as you seek to live into the season and age of Easter.

Easter by George Herbert (1593 –1633)

RIse heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
                                                  Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                                  With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
                                                  With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
                                                  Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
                                                  Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
                                                  And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
 
I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Herbert begins this poem in a similar manner as many of the Psalmists of Scripture (see Psalms 42-43 for an example) by addressing his own self or soul. He seeks to rouse himself to the reality of Christ’s resurrection and spur himself toward glad rejoicing and celebration. Using varied images Herbert paints a picture of one’s movement out of sorrow and into joy in light of Easter and its tiding. All in all, this a beautiful poem — even though there is some archaic language to overcome.

In the final stanza, Herbert draws our attention to the daily reality of the Easter — the idea that Easter is an age we inhabit until Christ’s return: “Can there be any day but this / Though many sunnes to shine endeavour? / We count three hundred, but we misse: / There is but one, and that one ever.” Because the resurrected and ascended Christ reigns and rules now, each day is infused with the power, life, and grace of that first Easter day through the Spirit’s presence. Reflecting on this ought to help us rouse our own souls to live into the implications of Christ’s Resurrection.

If you would like to dig into this poem further, Malcolm Guite shares his helpful explanation and analysis on his blog in an Easter post from a few years ago.

Easter by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 –1889)

Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine—
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not 'tis Easter morn?

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter's robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.

Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God's house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer, and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.

Hopkins begins this poem with dramatic language imagining us as Jesus’ would-be grave robbers in a sense: “Break the box and shed the nard” (nard being the perfume Jesus was anointed with at Bethany). Immediately, he has our attention! In the first stanza he goes on to utilize Biblical imagery to emphasize the great worth of Christ — Mary’s perfume (John 12:3) and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). In light of the events of His Passion, Hopkins impresses upon us that Jesus is worth everything: “Upon Christ throw all away.” This is not meant solely in a negative sense, but also positively — whether the pouring forth of our “wine” or the playing of our own “harp” or “horn” for His benefit and exaltation. I am reminded of Jesus’ own words about this dynamic:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 

Matthew 16:25-26

Continuing on the the ensuing stanzas, Hopkins gives us several examples of transformation: Winter turning into Spring, grieving turning into rejoicing, funeral rites turning into an exuberant celebration, and more. He urges us as “Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes” (my favorite line) to join them and “Open wide your hearts that they / Let in joy this Easter Day.” All creation worships and adores the Son. And so should we — on Easter Day and each day that follows.

In the final stanza, Hopkins paints the picture of corporate worship — the people of God gathered as a great congregation to worship the Risen Lord. Part of the motive for this reveling, Hopkins intimates, is the daily reality of Easter: “Henceforth let your souls always / Make each morn an Easter Day.” By the Spirit’s power, we have the opportunity each day to make this our meditation — that Easter realities and resurrection light might pour into our hearts and out of us through our worshipful service of our Risen King for the benefit of all our neighbors. What a fantastic encouragement and powerful motive to live moment-by-moment in fellowship with Christ and in dependence on Him! We have these resources at our fingertips daily as we continue to inhabit the age of Easter.

Easter Dawn by Malcolm Guite (1957– )

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves
And now he blesses hers who stood and wept
And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s
Last touching place, but watched as low light crept
Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs
A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
Or recognise the Gardener standing there.
She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,
Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light
That brightens as she chokes out her reply
‘They took my love away, my day is night’
And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.

This poem is actually an English sonnet — 14 lines (three quartets and a couplet), iambic pentameter, and an alternating rhyme scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG). In this sonnet, Guite puts us in the place of Mary Magdalene in her grief. This scene is found in the Resurrection account in the Gospel of John:

11   But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:11-18

Guite captures how Mary was blessed in her grief and tears through the presence of the resurrected Jesus. Going further, he impresses upon us that the same blessing is available to us in our grief, sorrows, and losses: “He blesses every love which weeps and grieves” (emphasis mine). Grief shows the depth of our love most often. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous final lines from his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.” express this experience well:

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
   I feel it, when I sorrow most;
   'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Deep sorrow and grief shows presence of real and true love. We see this in Jesus’ own life in the Jews’ response to His expressive and intense grief over the loss of Lazarus: “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36). However, in our present scene, there is a great reversal. In the depths of Mary’s grief, which mirrors her love, her Love appears, speaks her name, and quiets her soul’s boisterous pain with His comforting presence. Love is not lost. Jesus is alive and draws near. The Resurrection brings resolution to lost love.

Delving further, Guite pictures the gentleness of Jesus beautifully in this sonnet. Christ leads with questions. He presses toward us in our tears. He calls us by name. He impresses upon the reality of the good news of His Resurrection. For Mary and for us as well, Jesus clears out the cloudiness of our tear-filled eyes with the shining glory of His intimate presence. Our vision is clarified seeing the resurrected Jesus and His words of comfort: “The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.” It is no longer night! Our resurrected Lord shines luminously in our lives as He abides with us and us with Him. It is Easter now and always until He returns — even as we continue to grieve losses and feel the ache of our many sorrows. In Christ, let your night be day today, my friends!

You can hear Guite read this sonnet on his blog.

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