Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Before I Knocked” is a poem about Christ, but what sort of Christ does it portray? In orthodox Christian thought, Christ was both fully man and fully God; he combined two natures within one person. He suffered and died to save fallen man, and he rose from the dead.

It is obvious that “Before I Knocked” is not a pious poem in the traditional sense. Christ is not exalted as God; his death is emphasized without implication that anyone is saved as a result of it, and there is not even a hint of the resurrection. It is by no means clear that Thomas means to impute any divine status to Christ at all. While it is true that his Christ possesses a consciousness prior to his incarnation, there is little about it that could properly be said to be divine. Moreover, it is not uncommon in Thomas’s poetry for a fetus, or simply an unborn spirit, to be the speaker, so the fact that in this poem Christ has life, feelings, and thought prior to his birth does not mean that any special status is attributed to him.

From an orthodox point of view, then, “Before I Knocked” might be seen as heretical. It emphasizes the human dimension of Christ while slighting the divine. Even the two lines in which an exalted status is suggested (“I who was rich was made the richer/ By sipping at the vine of days”) subverts orthodox thought, in which Christ, even before his incarnation, was fully God and therefore could not be made richer by entering the temporal...

(The entire section is 487 words.)