(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “The Priest’s Confession,” Ai presents the thought process of a priest who believes he has sinned and battles his own temptations, fearing the wrath of God. He confesses, “I didn’t say mass this morning” and then goes on to describe “Rosamund, the orphan,” who tempts him with her laughter and “the almond scent of her body” that wraps around his neck “like a noose.” This image of a noose is repeated in part 3 of the poem, where he contemplates hanging a rope from the rafter of the church and kicking away “the needlepoint footstool” so that he can “swing out over the churchyard.”

Images of Rosamund and her developing body haunt him. Despite his attempts at self-control, he gives in to temptation, breaks his rosary, and then rolls “on the floor/ in a kind of ecstasy” for his transgression. He describes to God how he craves parts of Rosamund’s body, such as the “bird’s nest of hair/ barely covered by her drawers” and her breasts that “grew in secret/ like two evil thoughts,” but he still wants to know that God loves him.

The priest confesses that, in a moment of sadistic violence, he pressed his face between Rosamund’s legs and “bit down” so hard that his mouth bled, but that he did not stop. Although the priest describes Rosamund as “so quiet” and then suddenly crying out, the reader is doubtful that she “moved closer and closer” to the priest’s lips, as he describes. Since Rosamund is not given a voice or a choice in this poem, perhaps the priest is having delusions of transcendence. After this encounter, he is haunted by both her laughter and her screams, and he resigns himself to being a sinner, entreating, “Lord, come walk with me” because he knows it is his only hope for redemption.

The Priest's Confession Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cramer, Steven. Review of Fate, by Ai. Poetry 159 (November, 1991): 108-111.

Kilcup, Karen. “Dialogues of the Self: Toward a Theory of (Re)reading Ai.” Journal of Gender Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1998): 5-20.

Monaghan, Pat. Review of Fate, by Ai. Booklist 87 (January 1, 1991): 902.

Ostriker, Alicia. Review of Sin, by Ai. Poetry 144 (January, 1987): 231-237.

Seidman, Hugh. Review of Killing Floor, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1979, 14.

Seshadri, Vijay. Review of Dread, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2003.