“Nicodemus” is a fifty-five-line poem divided into six stanzas and three parts. The dramatic monologue is an imaginative rendition of the New Testament Nicodemus’s response to Jesus’s statement that no man sees the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit (in John 3). “Nicodemus” is the priest’s account to an unknown audience of his and Jesus’s encounter. Written in the persona of Nicodemus, the poem depicts the spiritual seeker as a lonely, bitter man who, although he seeks the company of Jesus, cannot or will not understand his words.
Part 1 of the poem follows the biblical account closely. John 3:1 states that Nicodemus was a Pharisee who visited Jesus at night—undoubtedly to avoid controversy, although this is not stated in the gospel. The poem opens with Nicodemus’s admission that he went down back alleys, not because he was ashamed, but from a “natural discretion.” As the Pharisee made his way to Jesus, he saw a couple embracing against a white wall and hastened to turn his eyes away, no doubt to follow the pharisaic tradition of avoiding “impure” thoughts. Although he quickly averted his eyes, he confesses to whomever he is speaking that at the sight of the lovers he was shaken. He tries to analyze whether his agitation was from the aridity of his mind or from the lovers’ hot blood. Nicodemus recalls the howling of a dog in a stone corner right after seeing the lovers—a parallel to his solitary state.
Part 2 also begins by paraphrasing John 3, “How is a man born, being old?” and then shifts to Nicodemus’s central philosophical stance, that life is miserable and empty and that nothing can ever be known. He argues against the concept that a man can be...
(The entire section is 707 words.)