Detail from "The Last Supper" by Carl Bloch‘I, Judas’ by Jeff Kemper The Society May 17, 2021 Culture, Poetry 16 Comments . My erstwhile master taught me well And I supposed I could adjust As did the comrades in our cell, But when he said he’d bite the dust I levied that I’d say goodbye And champion another trust. I should have known he’d testify, “Somebody will betray me soon.” We all said, “Tell me, Is it I?” In confidence did we commune: Said he to me, “What you must do, Do now: The time is opportune!” Well did his verbiage construe Impending fates when he said, “Damn That man who gives the fatal cue— Betrays the Son, the paschal Lamb. How better if he’d not been born, That baleful son of Abraham!” I framed my master as he’d sworn. My royal hope was dashed. I swore, “How better if I’d not been born!” I dashed the silver to the floor, Went out and made my grand farewell, And fell to where the hell-fires roar. . . Jeff Kemper has been a biology teacher, biblical studies instructor, editor, and painting contractor. He lives in York County, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 16 Responses Sally Cook May 17, 2021 Dear Mr. Kemper, Yours is a graceful and thought provoking poem. Thank you for writing and publishing it. Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Thank you, Sally! Reply Julian D. Woodruff May 17, 2021 A memorable poem, neatly constructed. I admire the rhymes linking 5tains and the -ell rhymes in the last line to close off the linking process and maybe suggest ongoing or recurrent woe. “Bite the dust” stands out. Do you mean the lapse into slang as a deliberate irony on the part of Judas? Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Thank you, Julian. Concerning “bite the dust”: I used it for two reasons. The first was for the rhyme, intending to alter it later. But I kept it because the slang seemed to capture his disgust with how things were turning out. I assume that Judas had a reaction to Jesus’s revelation different from his fellow disciples. Reply lionel willis May 17, 2021 Jeff has created a neat bundle of terza rima for an appropriate subject. One graceful way to end such a piece is to give the pattern closure by bringing back the opening rhyme in the penultimate line. Dante’s cantos complete themselves with couplets. Shelly follows Dante’s scheme in the famous Ode. But the other scheme seems to me equally fine for a short bundle like Jeff’s. Julian has already very ably identified an expressive advantage of the scheme. I feel as if I can hear faint overtones of Dante here. I feel at home in the company of poets who care enough about such technicalities to work them out right. Thanks to Jeff for adding a small treasure to the canon. Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 As a sophomore in college I found Dante pure drudgery. As a latecomer to the humanities I ought to try him again. Thanks, Lionel, for your kind comments. Reply Margaret Coats May 17, 2021 Jeff, this is an excellent voice to create for Judas. Tetrameter lines suggest hasty carelessness; the hellish logic is flawless and unrepentant; the last farewell is “grand.” Judas manages to blame Jesus for his damnation! Putting Dante’s divine terza rima into six-line stanzas makes for inspired form, as six is the Biblical number of evil because it comes so close, but falls short of the perfect number seven. Judas had the opportunity to be one of the greatest of saints, but failed and stayed where he was in a determined manner. Julian Woodruff and Lionel Willis have already noticed your closing strategy of returning to the opening rhyme sound; I call this “rounding,” and I would say it speaks of the choice not to express repentance and not to escape evil consequences. Judas keeps traveling in a circle. Also noticed your careful placement of the word “well” at the beginning, middle, and end of the poem. Remarkable how at the end it becomes part of the ironic “farewell,” rhyming internally with “fell” to “hell.” All very effective! Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Margaret, I always appreciate your comments; they are little lessons on poetry that I never had in academia. However, I must admit that some of your analysis just sort of fell into place, as it were, accidentally (vis., the tetrameter and 6-line stanzas). The poem emerged from a study of Matthew’s gospel. I would like to think about arranging the construction to fit the subject and mood in future poems! Thanks for commenting! Reply Cynthia Erlandson May 17, 2021 I love this, Jeff! The storytelling and characterization are stunning and profound; and I echo the above comments about the genius of the form. Specifically, Damn/Lamb/Abraham is a cunning rhyme. And the title sets the tone perfectly. Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Thank you, Cynthia, for your very kind words. I hardly feel deserving; I’m a pessimist by nature. Reply C.B. Anderson May 17, 2021 Jeff, you might want to read Taylor Caldwell’s novel with the same name. It’s interesting and puts a different twist on the subject. But let us all be cognizant of the fact that without the betrayal for bits of silver (sealed with a kiss), the Crucifixion might not have happened as planned. As much as we might like to view Judas as a traitor, he played a crucial role in the Mystery of Golgotha. Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Thanks, C.B., for the tip. I’ll look into Caldwell’s book. You bring up a dubious accomplishment of Judas’s, but one that admittedly had to happen. Reply Yael May 17, 2021 This is a fascinating Judas poem. I like the rhymes and the construction of 6 lines to each stanza. What really stands out in my mind though is the allusion to communism in the third line. It’s a very interesting juxtaposition with the theme of Judas betraying Jesus, as the terms comrade, cell, and the concept of communism to which these terms belong are modern phenomena which are not mentioned in the Bible. It adds implications of vast proportions to the story which your poem is telling. Reply Jeff Kemper May 18, 2021 Yael, this is fascinating! I wasn’t consciously injecting communism into the story, but your observation gives me food for thought. Any historical writing is, of course, interpretation in light of the interpreter’s experience, and communism is certainly all around us! Thanks for your input! Reply Susan Jarvis Bryant May 19, 2021 Jeff, to me, this is a fresh and wholly relatable look at an age old depiction of events, and I love it. It engages me and affords a greater understanding of the Judas mindset. Very well done, indeed! Reply Jeff Kemper May 20, 2021 Thanks ever so much. This guy fascinates me. I wish we knew more about him. I’ve known people I deemed followers of Christ, only to learn later from their words and deeds that Christ “never knew” them. It’s puzzling. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.