Come Sweet Death is a case study of a desperate people in need of a Redeemer, or at least a miracle, without specifying a deus ex machina. The speaker’s complaint is resonant with the Hebrews’ charge that God took them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, a violation of the binding covenant established between the elector and electee.
The embittered Adversary sneers that following God is only easy for fundamentalists who simply respond to an altar call and then live happily ever after. In his view, people are proud and rebellious, and God is bemused, and suspected of being ill, asleep, or dead.
Although the conversation is between a man and God, the subtext is also about relationships among people. Whether they are facing God or a neighbor, people are “estranged, embittered, lonely.” The poem describes a world of Babel that has produced J. D. Salinger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertolt Brecht, and Edward Albee—writers who expose how “wordless words” fail to communicate. The citizens of Babel have lost Logos as well as language. The speaker taunts: “O come, O come Immanuel/ and ransom captive, Wordless Israel.”
In turning to God as a last resort, the speaker plays out the call and response of Abraham. In The Song of the Vineyard, Napier argues that once a land is possessed and named, it is lost, which explains why his persona is finally satisfied with the promise of what seems to be a “never-never...
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