Last Reviewed on September 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
James Wright's poem "Saint Judas" imagines what might have happened to Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Jesus Christ. The poem presents a suicidal man who is haunted by guilt.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began . . .
This first quotation from the first stanza illustrates the seeming paradox of Judas's character. Perhaps instinctively, he runs to save a man who is being beaten up by a "pack of hoodlums," and yet not long before, his "day began" with his betrayal of Jesus Christ. In his instinctive act of altruism, Judas says that he forgot himself entirely. His name is now, of course, infamous—associated with betrayal, cowardice, and greed.
Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry.
In this quotation from the poem's second stanza, Judas seems to equate his own situation with that of the beaten man. Judas has been banished from heaven for his betrayal of Jesus, and is thus, as mentioned later in the poem, "without hope." The beaten man is also, in his beaten state, "without hope." The listing in the second line of the quotation, "Stripped, kneed, and left to cry," emphasizes the hopelessness of the beaten man's condition, which in itself is a metaphor for Judas's own situation.The body of the beaten man can be seen as representing Judas's conscience.
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh.
At the end of the poem, Judas holds the beaten man in his arms, and while doing so remembers himself and his life. The "bread" and the "kiss" are biblical allusions. In the Bible, when Jesus was asked who would betray him, he said that it would be the person to whom he gave the bread he was holding. He gave that bread to Judas. The "kiss" refers to the kiss that Judas gave to Jesus, which was the signal to the high priests to let them know the man they were looking for. In the above quotation from the poem, Judas says that this kiss "ate [his] flesh." This implies that his betrayal, symbolized by the kiss, began to destroy him from the moment it was enacted. The implication is that the kiss (and thus the betrayal) became like an illness or a virus attacking his body.
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