“Saint Judas” is a nearly Petrarchan sonnet, in nearly regular iambic pentameter, with an unusual rhyme scheme. Its title suggests that its contents, as well as its form, will represent a modification of tradition, since anyone familiar with the story of Judas Iscariot, apostle and betrayer of Christ, will be surprised to see him canonized in the title of the poem as “Saint Judas.” The title simultaneously stimulates curiosity and encourages an open mind for the unorthodox interpretation of character that follows.
The sonnet is written in the first person. Readers of James Wright’s later, more confessional poetry will expect the speaker of the poem to be Wright himself, but “Saint Judas” instead takes the point of view of the infamous traitor of the title. It is important to note that the persona of this poem is not to be confused with Saint Jude, another of Christ’s apostles, who is known by the Catholic church as the patron saint of desperate cases. The Judas referred to here is the apostle Judas Iscariot, whose story, as it is traditionally told, appears in the Bible in Matthew 27:3-5. Like Robert Browning’s murderer in “Porphyria’s Lover,” or Vladimir Nabokov’s child molester in Lolita (1955), James Wright’s “Saint Judas” is a character who could only arouse sympathy by being seen from the inside.
The narrative of the poem begins in the octave, where the reader finds Judas on his way to commit...
(The entire section is 427 words.)