The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jesus of Nazareth is baptized by John the Baptist. This rite is attended by Satan, the Adversary, cloaked in invisibility. Thunderstruck by the pronouncement from Heaven that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, Satan hastily assembles a council of his peers. They choose “their great Dictator” to attempt the overthrow of this new and terrible enemy. God, watching Satan set out on his evil mission, foretells the failure of the mission to the angel Gabriel. The angels sing a triumphant hymn.

Led by the Spirit, Jesus enters the desert and pursues holy meditations. In retrospect, he examines his life, considers his destiny, but does not wish for revelation of his future until God chooses to give it. For forty days he wanders unharmed through the perils of the desert; then for the first time he feels hunger. Just at that moment, he meets an aged man in rural clothing. The old man explains that he was present at the baptism, then expresses amazement at the lost and perilous situation of the wanderer. Jesus replies “Who brought me hither will bring me hence, no other Guide I seek.” The old man then suggests that if Jesus were really the Son of God, he should command the stones to become bread. In his refusal, Jesus asks, “Why dost thou then suggest to me distrust, knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?” At this discovery, Satan abandons his disguise and enters a dispute attempting self-justification. Overcome in the argument, he vanishes as night falls. The other newly baptized people and Mary the mother of Jesus are distressed at his absence, but do not allow themselves to despair.

Satan calls a fresh council of war. He dismisses Belial’s suggestion to “Set women in his eye and in his walk” and receives a vote of confidence for his own plan of using honor, glory, and popular praise combined with relief from the suffering of physical hunger.

Jesus dreams of the ravens who fed Elijah by Cherith’s Brook and of the angel who fed him in the desert. Awakening, he looks for a cottage, a sheepcote, or a herd, but finds...

(The entire section is 841 words.)