What is the overall meaning of the poem "Saint Judas" by James Wright?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Saint Judas" is a Petrarchan sonnet, with variations to form, meter and rhythm, that recasts the story of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer for thirty pieces of silver of Jesus of Nazareth. Written in first person, Judas tells his inner feelings and thoughts. Critical opinion is that, as is the case with Robert Browning's "Porphyria's Lover," the character of the poem can only be perceived sympathetically from within his own perceptions--from his inner being.

The meaning is that Judas Iscariot regrets his action of selling out Jesus for silver and of giving him a kiss of betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has a rope in hand and is caught in the poem while on his way to the field in which he intends to hang himself in inconsolable remorse. On the way, he encounters a man who desperately needs help and Judas unflinchingly, unselfishly rushes in to his aid. After rescuing the stranger, Judas drops his rope and ignores the soldiers who are around as he rushes to comfort the beaten man.

The poem ends with the overall meaning stamped in images as Judas, who believes he is cast from heaven and has no hope to cling to, holding the beaten man; he "held the man for nothing" close in his arms. The actions and images convey the picture of Judas' humanity and selflessness and spiritual generosity.

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