Both the Annunciation poem and the title poem deal with the spiritual theme of resignation but not necessarily in the traditional way. The highest form of human resignation, Mary’s affirmative reply to God that made the Incarnation of Christ possible, is the core of the Annunciation story for Christians and presumably for van Eyck’s painting. Yet Hopes emphasizes the physicality of the spiritual elements in the painting: the angel whose weight bends the floor and the ray of divine light that looks more like a gold wire. In the same way, the religious tradition of Mary Magdalene’s story leads the reader to suspect a rejection of sensuality immediately after the moment depicted in de la Tour’s painting. However, the poem imagines instead a passionate union of the viewer and the Magdalene in the moment after she looks in the mirror.
By capturing Mary Magdalene at a peak moment, both the painting and the poem express the Christian paradox of the Eternal Now, in which eternity penetrates time. The moment Mary conceived Christ, the subject of the Annunciation poem, is of course the premier example for Christians of the eternal moment. Yet the Magdalene poem, as well as the one on Sassetta’s Meeting of St. Anthony and St. Paul, deals with the breaking of eternity into time. Sessetta depicts several events, widely separate in time, in the same space, and Hopes uses the cockeyed geometry of the canvas to describe the disorientation.
Grace, the unexpected gifts from God, shines through each of the poems in this collection. In modern Christian poetry, it tends to take the form of the unexpected. The speaker of “A Passion Play” clearly does not expect to see anything profound at a rural outdoor amateur theater.