“Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when
I open your
graves and have you rise from them.”

—Ezekiel 37:13

There was a time indeed when I was dead:
Oh: breathing yes, and witty, so I’m told;
Yet deep within me wormed a sour dread
That rendered me so atrophied and cold
I fairly feared I’d somehow come unsouled,
Yet shrugged it off, pretended I was brave
As bit by bit I settled in my grave.

And then by grace at last there came a voice
That called me forth, yet much to my chagrin,
Although new life was something to rejoice
I didn’t feel entirely in my skin
With little sense of where I should begin.
(When Lazarus first walked back into light
He certainly considered it too bright…)

Then life began at last to reassert
Itself in all its goodness and delight
Though I could sense a deeper grace exert
Its candid influence on me despite
My futile efforts not to realize quite
A truth as startling as a bubble burst:
That other grave was really just the first.



Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Agape Review, America Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

11 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I reread your poem three times, Jeffrey, to confirm and reaffirm my hypothesis as to the meaning for me of your well-phrased words. There is a depth to this one that was conferred upon my conscience by your last line. Your reference to the raising of Lazarus was inspired.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeffrey, this poem is beautiful on many levels… the craftmanship is admirable, the rhyme scheme and use of poetic device is inspirational, but it’s the message… your creative skills serve to enhance it and it’s wonderful. There are many living, breathing souls who are dead… I believe at one harsh stage in my life, I was one of them. Your words have touched my heart, and your closing line shines. Thank you!

  3. peter Carrington venable

    (When Lazarus first walked back into light
    He certainly considered it too bright…) So evocative lines. I too heard a voice 2-18-78, a clear thought to receive Him. Key on.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    There is so much profundity in this poem. The Old Testament/New Testament connection — between Ezekiel’s dry bones that represent Israel, and the literal raising of Lazarus by Jesus — is brilliant. And that “deeper grace” coming to one who was “unsouled” (a great word!) “as bit by bit I settled in my grave” describes in a few words our typical human condition without that grace. And the line about Lazarus walking into the too-bright light, clarifies that human condition even more. I love this poem! And, by the way, I also love the one you posted today on integratedcatholiclife.org.

  5. David Hollywood

    This is a superb and wonderfully deeply touching poem. I feel enhanced for its descriptive tone, and also hopeful of eternity. I shall appreciate reading this a number of times. Many thanks.

  6. Shaun C. Duncan

    Rhyme royal is not the easiest stanzaic form to write in, but it flows beautifully when done as masterfully as you have here. The macabre language used in your evocation of the living dead in the opening stanza brings a wonderful touch of Poe to a very thoughful devotional piece.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Like Shaun, I find masterful use of rhyme royal here. The three stanza conclusions are all strong finishes to a portion of the thought, taking up the potential strength in the form. All, however, operate differently. Using some of your own words, Jeffrey, I will call the first “settling,” the second “unsettling,” and the third “bubble-bursting.” Structure suits meaning.

  8. Steve Todd

    Others above have perfectly described the technical quality and emotional resonance of this, so I’ll not duplicate their fine observations. I’ll just say that this is one of the best pieces I’ve read (anywhere) in months – well done, and thank you for sharing it.

  9. Jeffrey J Essmann

    Thank you, everyone, for your very kind appreciation of my work. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people who know the form and its challenges recognize whatever success I’ve had with it. Thanks again and God bless.

  10. Rafael Moras

    Amen to your beautifully crafted poem and to all the comments above. Your verses are masterful, artistic, moving, touching, spiritual, and profound in so many ways!

    The line about light being too bright can be interpreted from many angles, all full of hope.

  11. Stuart~John Tigchelaar

    To be unconscious/unaware of being dead while living~ treading on the treadmill ~ and then to have such an awakening brought on by grace is a gift open to everyone who would take the time to listen with the ear of the heart. No more pretending when truth overcomes atrophy. Not an easy read Jeffrey ~ so close to home.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.