The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Easter 1984” is a short lyric on the subject of the role of Jesus Christ and Christianity in human history. The first section of the poem evokes the crucifixion of Christ. Christ is referred to in the first couplet as “human dignity,” the humanity of the Savior healing people “in the middle of the day”—not only referring to the time of day but also meaning in the open rather than in secret.

The second couplet relates humankind’s hostile, uncomprehending response to Jesus’ generosity: “we moved in on him slowly,” too used to old systems of law, vengeance, and the strange mixture of anarchy and retribution that is at the root of purely human systems of justice: “If this was God, we would get even.” The Crucifixion, it is implied, was an act of fear, of humans fearing their own potential, fearing the opportunities that Christ’s healing would have brought them. Christ’s dual divine-human nature redeems humankind, yet humankind fears being redeemed, wanting instead to continue the normal state of affairs. “We’d send it to be abstract again,” the poem says, suggesting that by crucifying Jesus humankind had made divinity once again abstract, loosed it from being incarnated in humanity. Therefore, a hesitant and uncomprehending humankind falsely feels liberated.

However, as the second section of the poem suggests, this was not the end of the story. The killing of Christ did not extinguish the qualities he brought...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is written in three sections of seven couplets each. Les Murray’s choice of a couplet form is unusual, because in English this mode of versification is usually associated with satire. Perhaps Murray was influenced by the ghazal, an Urdu poetic form whose couplets have a generally spiritual and lofty tone. Also, unlike the traditional English couplet, the lines of “Easter 1984” do not rhyme directly; at most they are linked by a sort of off-rhyme that does not intrude upon the reader. Off-rhymes such as “dignity” and “day” at the beginning of the first section, “again” and “risen” in the last couplet of the first section, or “human” and “on” in the fourth couplet of the third section are very close in sound even though they do not completely rhyme. Alternately, there are some true rhymes such as “him” and “limb” in the fifth couplet of the first section, as well as one instance (increased/poignancy/ecstasy/released) at the beginning of the third section where there is an abba rhyme scheme stretched across two couplets. Sometimes these almost-rhymes have definite undertones of meaning, as in “forgotten” and “human” in the last couplet of the poem, where the first word represents a deprivation that is healed by the second.

It is not symbol-hunting in a Christian poem to hypothesize that the three sections of the poem allude to the Holy Trinity. (Equally, the couplet form could be expressing the...

(The entire section is 467 words.)