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Some Days in the Life of a Bride of Christ

“But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”
—Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:17

Some days my Lord and I rejoice
__Like honeymooners gay;
Some days our joy is still and small,
__Like two old heads turned gray.

Some days I feel like a hen-pecked husband,
__Yearning to be free;
Some days I feel like the pecking wife
__With the hen’s cluck, “Me, me, me!”

Sometimes I blanch like a terrified bride
__At the thought of becoming a wife;
Sometimes I groan with the labor pangs
__As I bear my Lord’s new life.

Some days we quarrel and don’t make up;
__Some nights my bed is cold.
Some magical moments we dance and dance
__Till the stars in the sky grow old.

Sometimes we dance with cheek to cheek,
__Our steps in time and true,
And the world is right in the soft, still night,
__And the stars are made anew.

Some days I refuse to own my faults,
__And I blame, though I know I’m wrong;
Some days I give my all to Him—
__My life, my love, my song.

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Jack DesBois is a singer, actor, and storyteller. He gives annual Epiphany season performances of The Western Star, which he wrote in 2016. He self-published a chapbook of short poems in 2018. As a singer, Jack has had the good fortune to solo in several of the great works of Baroque Oratorio, including Handel’s Messiah (Bass) and Esther (Haman) and J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (Jesus). Jack lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts. 


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26 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Beautiful ballad meter! And the poem neatly combines and fuses the imagery of an earthly marriage with the ups and downs of a spiritual one.

    My only suggestion: Why not change “terrified” to “frightened” in the third quatrain? This would smooth out the meter, and avoid the distracting internal rhyme of “terrified – bride.”

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, Joe. I see that others have chimed in below regarding your suggestion. I’ve considered intellectually what I put down instinctively, and I’m going to stick with my instinct on this one. I think in terms of aural sound when I compose, if not literal song – and a song suffers from too much iambic regularity. I’m a big fan of anapests and dactyls, like “terrified.” The word has a more intense meaning to me than frightened, too – fright is what I feel when I notice a bug crawling up my arm; terror is what I feel when I’m lost in a dark wood surrounded by strange and sinister noises. As for the internal rhyme – I think the uncomfortable rhyming proximity adds to the discomfort of the image (in contrast to the regularly spaced and right-sounding internal rhyme in Stanza 5 line 3).

      Thank you for challenging me to think critically about my work.

      Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      He certainly is all of those things, Brandon. The more I get to know Him, the more I realize this.

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    A ballad of extreme beauty, Jack. I will dare to contradict Joseph Salemi, and say that the disruption of meter with the distracting internal rhyme of “terrified bride” is most appropriate. Those words refer to the very worst thing in the poem, the terrible possibility of abandoning the marriage. Even a nun in solemn vows could do this. And when we consider that every Christian soul, male and female, is a “bride of Christ” through baptism, this terrifying possibility is available to everyone. I think your epigraph, with generic “he,” refers to any soul. At one time, images like yours (in reference to a male person) were quite shocking to readers. Elizabethan poet Henry Constable, whose Spiritual Sonnets were not published until the 19th century, used explicit spousal images both of Mary Magdalen and of his own soul. Two or three of the sonnets were ignored by the Victorian publisher and remained in manuscript only for another century.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Margaret. You’ve keyed in immediately on one of the deeper explorations of this poem. I chose the epigraph in part because it uses the male “he,” and uses it generically. I had been reading chapters 6 and 7 of 1 Corinthians, in which Paul describes ideal marital relations, as well as the ideal “marital” relation between unmarried Christians and Christ (and expresses his preference for the latter). It got me thinking about my relationship with Christ as “marital.” I’m a man, but that doesn’t mean the marital metaphor is off-limits to me as I seek a deeper relationship with Christ. It is, after all, a metaphor – an imperfect rendering of a truth beyond human comprehension, to bring the truth within human comprehension’s grasp.

      I can well understand that such use of the bride-of-Christ imagery might not sit well with many throughout history. Some might take the metaphor too literally and think I’m advocating for homosexual relations with Christ!

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The problem with your interpretation, Margaret, is that the verbal context of quatrain three is explicitly about an earthly bride. The first two lines deal with a virgin bride’s natural fear of the wedding-night consummation, while the second two lines make use of the imagery of birth (“the labor pangs”) that may follow upon the marital act. The female speaker is not terrified of “the possibility of abandoning the marriage” — she is terrified of the unknowns of sexuality. If actual abandonment (by either her or her spouse) were in the cards, this very down-to-earth imagery would make no sense at all.

    Yes, this is about the spiritual marriage of a nun who becomes a “Bride of Christ.” But what gives the poem its charm is how the poet has employed the language of a young wife (her normal fears and hopes and emotional turmoil) to delineate the inner vicissitudes of a Sponsa Christi. As I read the poem, this particular nun has no problems with her vowed commitments or her faith — she simply has come to realize (as The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius point out) that an interior life of prayer, meditation, and daily devotions has its natural soaring peaks and dark valleys, just as an earthly union of wife and husband has its good days and bad days.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Joe, I read too fast for you. Nice try at an undershoulder swingdown arm bar throw, but I’m still on my feet. Hope I can continue the match on Monday. Have some good red wine.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I don’t follow you, Margaret. Is this some sort of a competition? All I did was give my reading of the poem.

    • Jack DesBois

      Joseph, your interpretation of the third stanza is nearly spot-on. The consummation-labor progression was intentional, and I’m glad you followed that.

      Something that I perhaps could have made clearer (if I thought it mattered) is that the entire poem is couched in simile (e.g. the first two lines of quatrain three) and metaphor (e.g. the last two lines of quatrain three). The gender of the speaker is therefore never specified – indeed, I included one unavoidably male simile in the litany (the hen-pecked husband) to guide the reader away from a necessarily female speaker.

      I’m intrigued by your reading of “Bride of Christ” as “Nun” (helped along, no doubt, by Evan Mantyk’s visual interpretation). As a reading, it works – but it wasn’t my strict intention to write a poem from the perspective of a nun.

      Reply
  4. Yael

    A very touching and beautiful poem to which every true follower of Christ can relate. I love it and I think you’ve done a great job with it. To me the word terrified in the third stanza sounds better than the word frightened, because of the way it rhymes with bride and focuses the reader’s attention on the bride’s feeling of terror. The word frightened makes for smoother reading which glosses over her terror and it doesn’t give me the little extra holdup of internal-rhyme-induced hesitation in my brain which causes me to empathize with her plight.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Yael. “Hesitation” is a good word to describe the close-proximity rhyming. It makes the brain wake up from the rhythm’s lull and say, “Hang on, what’s going on here?”

      Reply
  5. David Watt

    Very nice poem Jack. Stanza five perfectly describes a harmonious relationship of any description.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, David. I had Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in mind with stanza five.

      Reply
  6. Brian Yapko

    Jack, I greatly admire your ability to get into the first-person head of a young nun who variously experiences joy, fright and awe at the prospect of her commitment to God. You’ve couched this sacred commitment in very human and earthy terms in a way which reminds me of the biblical “Song of Songs” (which I believe you’ve subtly invoked in your final line.) You’ve described something quite profound about the simple things which make up a big chunk of the relationship between Man and God. Well done!

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Brian! You’ve had a similar nun’s-perspective reading to Joseph Salemi. If it ruins your enjoyment of the poem, you don’t need to know that the poem is actually my very personal reflections on Paul’s 1 Corinthians description of the unmarried person’s special relationship with Christ.

      As for the ending – “my song” – it’s possible I had the Song of Songs in my subconscious when I wrote that. At any rate, I am glad it made you think in that direction. As with much of my poetry, the words seemed to fit, and I didn’t disturb the fit by asking why at the time. In retrospect, I think the line refers to the act of writing poetry/song, which for me yields ripest fruit when I am giving my all to Him in the creative act.

      Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    Jack, I am starting a new, full-width box to explain my reading of “terrified bride.” I am glad you have offered your own justification, but I think I can still contribute something. When I suggest that we consider the bride terrified (not merely frightened) of the worst thing that could happen in her situation, I quite rightly said the worst thing is abandoning the marriage. I assume most readers comprehend the ordinary fears Joseph Salemi outlines, and I moved directly to considering the poem (I did say “poem,” not limiting my reflection to the imagery of the third stanza). Joseph reads the poem as paralleling marriage and religious life, with difficulties in one similar to those in the other. But they are not parallel even in the intimate nature of spiritual difficulties, and not at all in the worst that could happen, that thing of which a bride (male or female) could be terrified from the outset. That thing is abandoning the marriage, and it can only be done by the bride. No bride of Christ will be abandoned by her bridegroom. One of her terrors is, therefore, that if abandonment takes place, it will be her fault. And I use “her” generically, as your poem is about anyone who is a bride of Christ in the sense of the epigraph.

    You do not go on to an explicit image of abandonment as what the bride fears, but your fourth stanza speak of quarrels and a cold bed. Still, temporary unhappy uneasiness is not something to be terrified of, any more than sex or pregnancy. The terror appears within a look forward to all possibilities, which is not what couples do during the course of married life, but at the wedding, vowing to be faithful in ALL circumstances “until death do us part.” This is where the spiritual bride (male or female) may be most terrified because she cannot foresee her behavior in all circumstances. She could abandon the spousal commitment to God through her own fault, and this is worse than abandoning a human spouse.

    To turn the discussion back to the traditional Catholic milieu, I know a man and a woman who left seminary and convent at the bridal stage (before ordination or solemn vows). I don’t know the full story of either one, but both experienced terrifying demonic attacks that subsided when they abandoned religious vocation. They didn’t abandon God, as both are now married in the Church (not to each other). I have never heard of any engaged person whose marriage demons tried to prevent–which suggests that full-time, lifelong, consecrated service to God can indeed be a terrifying prospect.

    For a Scriptural reference with a Jewish perspective, we could look to the Book of Tobias, where a demon kills Sara’s seven bridegrooms. Tobias survives because he is helped by the angel Raphael, and in the three wedding nights spent in prayer before marital consummation, he declares that he and Sara, as the children of saints, will not be joined in fleshly lust as heathens are, but for the sake of posterity.

    As you can see, Jack, your poem opens up far more than you may have expected. I believe the Corinthians passage is the first possible evidence for consecrated virginity among Christians. But even if Saint Paul refers only to the marital relationship of Christians to Christ in general (not thinking of specifically consecrated virgins), the “bride of Christ” and “spouse of Christ” are terms firmly established in tradition by the famed sermons on virginity of Saint Ambrose. Your poem is a lovely contemporary addition to that tradition.

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    The problem is this: a poem has to work FIRST AND FOREMOST by its words and imagery, and only secondarily through the opinions and ideology of the poet, or of its overenthused (and rapid) readers.

    Yes, a Christian of either sex can be seen as a “bride of Christ,” and this follows from the metaphor of Christ as the “Bridegroom” in the Gospels. But there is also a tradition of “nuptial mysticism” (specifically about nuns) going back to St. Gertrude the Great, and instanced in the very rare “Token of Espousal” phenomenon vouchsafed to Saint Catherine de’ Ricci. For better or for worse, Jack’s ballad runs on the fuel of this sex-specific tradition. The dominant voice in this poem is feminine, with only one line (5) in a voice that could be construed as masculine. Jack may have tried to guide the reader away from such a reading, but as often happens in poetry, actual language can override poetic intentions.

    But much more important, there is really nothing in this poem to indicate that the speaker is dreading a possible abandonment of her marriage. All she says is that the relationship has its good moments and its less than good moments. As for Margaret’s suggestion that, if the speaker does abandon her marriage, it will be her fault — well, there is practically nothing in the words of the poem to lend credence to that. She merely says that “Some days I refuse to own my faults / And I blame, though I know I’m wrong…” Any partner in a marriage might confess that, without necessarily implying that she (or he) is totally responsible for an impending breakup.

    The overt language of that third quatrain is not about anyone being terrified of abandoning anything. It is the language of a virgin bride nervous about being deflowered, and about the down-the-line consequences of pregnancy and the responsibilities of married life.

    Its sometimes possible to over-theologize a poem in a fierce attempt to link it with scriptural or patristic statements. Jack’s ballad is a straightforward depiction of the ordinary frictions inherent in an earthly marriage, and how they can provide a few points of similarity with the interior relationship of a devout Christian with the Savior. Why turn the poem into a commentary on Saint Ambrose?

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Love your fighting technique, Joseph. And don’t forget Catherine of Alexandria.

      Reply
  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jack, this is a beautiful and heartfelt poem that I can connect with… in fact, I think it taps into the hearts of all those who seek a relationship with God and feel their failings… I hear your words and they hit home. Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone on this tough trek to a relationship with our creator.

    Reply

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