Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537
“Repentance” is one of four poems which together constitute a longer work entitled “The Liar’s Psalm.” The epigraph that precedes “The Liar’s Psalm” states the subject and sets the tone for the entire work. It is a quotation from the beast-fable, “Reynard the Fox,” one of the many medieval versions of the adventures of an immoral predator who manages through cunning to avoid the punishment he deserves. The epigraph begins by pointing out that, while it takes neither “art nor cunning” to tell the truth, a skillful liar “may do wonders.” Motivated by the “hope of gain only,” he can rise high in the secular world or in the Church. Almost as an afterthought, the speaker adds that, though lying is indeed an “art,” it inevitably ends in “misery and affliction.”
With its emphasis on Reynard’s accomplishments rather than his downfall, this epigraph establishes the ambivalent tone that is evident throughout “The Liar’s Psalm.” Andrew Hudgins, the poet, cannot but admire a creature with the artistic talent of the fox; on the other hand, Andrew Hudgins, the moralist, knows that though truth may seem dull, lies are the devil’s instrument.
“Repentance” is the second segment in “The Liar’s Psalm.” It is preceded by “Homage to the Fox,” in which the fox’s gifts are praised and his worldly success emphasized, while the truth is characterized as both cowardly and unimaginative. The section that follows “Repentance” is called “Judas, Flowering.” In it, the speaker says that his hero and presumably his model is Christ’s betrayer, Judas. Again, the deceiver is shown as being a fascinating character, unlike pedestrian truth. In the last section of “The Liar’s Psalm,” “treachery” is again honored; it is far more valuable, the speaker says, than “love” and “hope.” There is, however, a puzzling comment in the final lines of the poem. The speaker admits that on occasion he does believe that the moon (light, good, and truth) might eliminate the darkness of the night sky, or evil, but he hastens to add that such a notion is merely proof that he can deceive even himself.
Like the other segments of “The Liar’s Psalm,” “Repentance” exalts fiction above fact, lies above truth. What the speaker repents is his own failure to lie. He sees truth as powerless; not only can it not keep the persona’s father from dying, but it also keeps the son miserable, anticipating grief. The speaker rejects logic, the supposed servant of truth, for in actuality it has “no god”: it can be used to prove anything.
Having rejected both reality and logic, the speaker now vows never again to “insult” those he cares about “with the actual.” He recalls and regrets the times he told the truth and hurt those he loved—his mother, his wife, a friend, his brother. From now on, he resolves, he will lie to others and believe the lies they tell him. At the end of the poem, the speaker asks forgiveness for his past skepticism, for behaving like Thomas the Apostle, who would not believe that Christ had indeed risen from the dead until Thomas had placed his hand in Jesus’s wounded side.
Forms and Devices
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451
Though Hudgins often utilizes blank verse for his poetry, “Repentance” is written in a mixture of forms. Some of the lines are conventional blank verse—for instance, “and I repent logic, which has no god: it will do.” Other lines are either shorter or longer but still regular and iambic: “So I have made this vow” and “of apple pie, a black chrysanthemum, a job—I could go on.” Sometimes anapests dominate, as in “It is nothing against principalities, against powers.” Occasionally the meter becomes so uncertain as the line progresses that Hudgins seems to have forgotten metrics altogether, but when that happens, he soon returns to a regular pattern, if not necessarily to iambic pentameter. For example, after “or with their densities. They are not worth their flawed kingdoms,” is followed by a line which begins with three iambic feet, “And neither do I love” before veering away from regularity. However, Hudgins is a careful craftsman, and there is method in what might seem to be metrical madness. To emphasize a point, for example, he uses simple words and a simple, regular pattern, as in the first four words of the poem and in the later “So I have made this vow.”
Hudgins’s imagery is as varied as his metrics. Some of it is grand and abstract, such as the Miltonic “principalities” and “powers” and the references to “gods” and “kingdoms.” On the other hand, much of it is taken from the everyday world. Reality, like manual labor, will “blister” his hands and “make them raw.” Logic is compared to a “taxi,” lies to self-indulgences like “a piece/ of apple pie,” and when in the past the speaker “attacked/ with actuality,” he used the “blade” of a knife.
There are often surprising juxtapositions of images in “Repentance.” For example, the list of minor “gifts” to oneself (clothing, pie, a flower) ends with a matter of major significance in life, “a job.” Similarly, when the speaker lists the truths that he regrets telling, he moves back and forth between moral flaws and matters of taste or appearance. Thus he appears to give the same importance to adultery and theft as to making an unfortunate choice in clothing or simply being too fat.
Often Hudgins is classified with Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor as a southern gothic writer. In this poem the final image is more graphic than the biblical original, for here the speaker has his finger not on, but “knuckle deep” in the wound. The earlier reference to human flesh, “sliced from my thighs,” is also grotesque. In both cases, however, and throughout the poem, Hudgins places his dramatic, concrete imagery at the service of profound philosophical concepts.