The Robe of Christ
by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
At the foot of the Cross on Calvary
Three soldiers sat and diced,
And one of them was the Devil
And he won the Robe of Christ.
When the Devil comes in his proper form
To the chamber where I dwell,
I know him and make the Sign of the Cross
Which drives him back to Hell.
And when he comes like a friendly man
And puts his hand in mine,
The fervour in his voice is not
From love or joy or wine.
And when he comes like a woman,
With lovely, smiling eyes,
Black dreams float over his golden head
Like a swarm of carrion flies.
Now many a million tortured souls
In his red halls there be:
Why does he spend his subtle craft
In hunting after me?
Kings, queens and crested warriors
Whose memory rings through time,
These are his prey, and what to him
Is this poor man of rhyme,
That he, with such laborious skill,
Should change from role to role,
Should daily act so many a part
To get my little soul?
Oh, he can be the forest,
And he can be the sun,
Or a buttercup, or an hour of rest
When the weary day is done.
I saw him through a thousand veils,
And has not this sufficed?
Now, must I look on the Devil robed
In the radiant Robe of Christ?
He comes, and his face is sad and mild,
With thorns his head is crowned;
There are great bleeding wounds in his feet,
And in each hand a wound.
How can I tell, who am a fool,
If this be Christ or no?
Those bleeding hands outstretched to me!
Those eyes that love me so!
I see the Robe -- I look -- I hope --
I fear -- but there is one
Who will direct my troubled mind;
Christ's Mother knows her Son.
O Mother of Good Counsel, lend
Intelligence to me!
Encompass me with wisdom,
Thou Tower of Ivory!
"This is the Man of Lies," she says,
"Disguised with fearful art:
He has the wounded hands and feet,
But not the wounded heart."
Beside the Cross on Calvary
She watched them as they diced.
She saw the Devil join the game
And win the Robe of Christ.
- - -
Joyce Kilmer, The Robe of Christ, in Regis Martin, Garlands of Grace: An Anthology of Great Christian Poetry, (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2001) 90-92.
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