Upon reading the poem "Saint Judas" by James Wright, the reader quickly realizes that the poem deals with Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve apostles. The author describes Judas as "going out to kill himself,"(line 1) when he sees a man being beaten by "a pack of hoodlums"(2). Judas quickly runs to help the man, forgetting "how [his] day began"(4). He leaves his rope behind and, ignoring the soldiers around him, runs to help. Finally, he remembers the circumstances that surround his suicidal intentions and realizes that he is "banished from heaven"(9) and "without hope"(13) He runs to the man anyway and holds him "for nothing in [his] arms"(14)
In order to understand James Wright's intentions in writing this poem, one must first have an understanding of the biblical story that it deals with. According to the Bible, "Satan entered Judas, who was numbered among the twelve [apostles]. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray [Jesus] to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. Then he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them"(Luke 22. 3-6). The Bible goes on to document Jesus and the apostles during the Last Supper, and Jesus revealing his knowledge of Judas' plan to betray him. He tells his apostles: "But behold, the hand of my betrayer is with me on the table"(Luke 22. 21). Judas later leads the officials to Jesus and identifies him to them by kissing Jesus. "Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'Whomever I kiss, He is the One, seize Him...Then immediately he went up to Jesus and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi! and kissed Him"(Matt. 26. 48-49). After Jesus is ta...
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...ough Wright does not say it directly, this may even suggest that the victim Judas encounters could be Jesus on his way to be crucified. Judas temporarily forgets his intent to kill himself and runs to the victim, ignoring the soldiers. Then he remembers the Last Supper and the meal he ate with Jesus and the other apostles ("Bread my flesh had eaten"(12)), and his betrayal of Jesus with a kiss ("the kiss that ate my flesh"(13)). He goes to the man and "[holds him] for nothing is his arms"(14). In this line Wright compares Judas' payment for betraying Jesus to the fact that he now offers comfort for nothing.
1. The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Reference edition. Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1983.
2. Wright, James. "Saint Judas." Approaching Poetry, Perspectives and Responses. Ed. Meg Spilleth. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1997. 70.
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