At the beginning of Lent, I received this e-mail from a reader named
Tim. He writes about his enthusiasm for a poem that has inspired many (and that I wrote
about last year): “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” Tim’s e-mail seems
providential, in view of Holy Week and Easter quickly approaching. It’s a perfect
poem to remind us of God’s great gift of love as revealed through the suffering and
rising of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. In this poem all created things seem to remind
the poet of God’s incredible love, dramatized through the person of Christ.
This is Tim’s letter, slightly condensed:
As I walked home from Ash Wednesday Mass, my favorite poem was welling
up in my head. I decided to Google it and see what else I could find about it. I’m
glad I did, because I discovered your Web site.
I first read Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, “I See His Blood
Upon the Rose,” in a 1948 anthology of Catholic literature titled A Return to
Plunkett’s poem reached out and grabbed me and hasn’t let
me go. I’ve memorized this sparse and powerful poem and meditate upon it often
as I run or walk the hills and beaches around my home, as I kayak the bays and coast
of central California, and when backpacking and climbing. It is a personal devotion that
is always with me that perfectly expresses my awe and gratitude for the beautiful jewel
of a world that has been bestowed upon us. A world made even more special precisely because “all
pathways by his feet are worn” (a line from the poem).
(From this point on we draw upon a condensed version of my column from
last year, which received many letters.)
Born in Dublin in 1887, Joseph Plunkett wrote many poems of rare mystical
force. Plunkett was one of the signers of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and was
imprisoned by the English army. He was executed in 1916 for his part in the 1916 Rising.
Shortly before his execution on the morning of May 4, he married his fiancée, Grace
Gifford, in the jail’s chapel. Plunkett was 28 years old.
Because of his great love for the Incarnate Word and the Word’s
close connection to all created things, Plunkett seemed to see Christ’s destiny and
great love as forever entwined with this earth and this universe.
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
“I see his blood upon the rose”: When we gaze at a rose or
any other part of this universe, we see not only the individual beauty of the rose, precious
and awesome in its own right. We see also the intensity of Gods care behind that
rose and behind the universe itself—an intensity revealed in Christs all-out,
self-giving love, in his blood spilt for us on the cross.
“And in the stars the glory of his eyes”: In the stars we
see not only the glory of his death and total self-giving. We see also the glory of his
risen body and his death-conquering gaze.
“His body gleams amid eternal snows”: When we look at snowcapped
mountains or other snowy vistas, we might see glimpses of Christ’s pale body, as
when taken down from the cross—or his glorified, transfigured body shining brighter
than snow. “His tears fall from skies”: Again, behind the lovely everyday processes
of nature such as a spring shower, we can't help seeing the love of our Great Lover—and
the tears he shed over Jerusalem or during his agony in the garden.
“I see his face in every flower”: Every flower, indeed everything
in this universe, reminds us of Christ. As St. Paul tells the Colossians (1:16), “All
things were created through him and for him.” We recall, too, that St. Francis saw
in the beauty of flowers the One who is Beauty itself.
“The thunder and singing of the birds/Are but his voice”:
Singing birds and all other sounds of nature communicate one thing: God’s great love
“And carven by his power/Rocks are his written words”: Christ,
the Word made flesh, is truly intermingled with the universe. Creation itself is a reflection
of the Word through whom “all things came to be” (Jn 1:3).
“All pathways by his feet are worn”: At the Incarnation,
God made this world his home. Every path, trail and road of this earth has taken on an
elevated dignity and meaning because of the pathways Christ took while accomplishing his
mission on earth. All paths remind us of the pathway he took to save us—the Way of
“His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea”: In the sea
pounding against the jagged coast, we get glimpses of Christ’s mighty heart pounding
with love for us.
“His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn”: Every thorn
is somehow intertwined with Christ's crown of thorns. Indeed, in every created thing we
see Christ's saving love.
“His cross is every tree”: Behind every tree, we can see
Christ’s cross—and the Creator's unconditional love.
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