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the-last-judgment-by-michelangelo

(Judgment Day, Michelangelo)

When thy bright beams, my Lord, do strike mine eye
Methinks I then could truly chide outright
My hidebound soul that stands so niggardly
That scarce a thought get glorified by’t.
My quaintest metaphors are ragged stuff, 5
Making the sun seem like a mullipuff.

It is my desire thou should’st be glorified:
But when thy glory shines before mine eye,
I pardon crave, lest my desire be pride.
Or bed thy glory in a cloudy sky 10
The sun grows wan; and angels palefac’d shrink,
Before thy shine, which I besmirch with ink.

But shall the bird sing forth thy praise, and shall
The little bee present her thankful hum,
But I who see thy shinning glory fall 15
Before mine eyes, stand blockish, dull, and dumb?
Whether I speak or speechless star, I spy,
I fail thy glory, therefore pardon cry.

But this I find, my rhymes do better suit
Mine own dispraise than tune forth praise to thee. 20
Yet being child, whether consonant or mute
I force my tongue to tattle as you see
That I thy glorious praise may trumpet right
Be thou my song and make Lord me thy pipe.

This shining sky will fly away apace, 25
When thy bright glory splits the same to make
Thy majesty pass, whose fairest face
Too foul a path is for thy feet to take.
What glory then, shall tend thee through the sky
Draining the heaven much of angels dry? 30

What light then flame will in thy judgment seat,
‘Fore which all men and angels shall appear?
How shall thy glorious righteousness them treat,
Rendering to each after his works done here?
Then saints with angels though wilt glorify: 35
And burn lewd men and devils gloriously.

One glimpse, my Lord, of thy bright Judgment Day
And glory piercing through, like fiery darts,
All devils, doth me make for grace to pray.
For filling grace had I ten thousand hearts. 40
I’d through ten hells to see thy Judgment Day
Woulds’t though but guild my soul with thy bright rays.

Notes:
This poem begins with a familiar complaint in Taylor’s poems on the Ascension: The beauty and glory of the scene have such transcendent wonder that no word of the poet can suffice to match what is seen. In the first stanza, he complains of his ability, My hidebound soul that stands so niggardly/That scarce a thought gets glorified by’t”.

The trouble does not lie with his wish, “It is my desire”. But when he sees the glory of Christ, rather than responding with appropriate praise, repents, “I pardon crave”. This is a point which may easily lost: The glory of Christ is such that the one who sees condemns himself, such as when Peter has an inkling who Jesus is he calls out, “Depart from me, for a I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Luke 5:8.

The glory of Christ is so create that the Creation itself shrinks back at his greater beauty,
“The sun grows wan”. Even angels, the most glorious of creature, “palefac’d shrink”. If the most glorious elements of creation (the sun, angels) cannot respond to such glory, then how I how hope to do so: (“bed [set] thy glory in a cloudy sky …./ which I besmirch with ink”).

Having spent two stanzas complaining of his weakness to do this work, he notes that humbler creatures, birds and bees, do their work of praising him: then why should I “who see thy shining glory full” not respond but “stand blockish, dull, and dumb”.

And so there is no escape from the paradox: if he praises or stands quiet, he fails to respond adequately to Christ’s glory:

Whether I speak, or speechless stand, I spy [I see]
I fail thy glory: therefore pardon cry.

He then does something interesting: he comments upon his own ability and states that his best poetical gift lies in his expression of his inadequacy to respond to the glory, rather than to praise the glory:

But this I find: my rhymes to better suit
Mine own dispraise than tune forth praise to thee. [the repetition of “praise” well balances the line]

However, having gone this far, he will force himself to praise, “I will force my tongue to tattle” (here it does not have the force of “telling on someone”). And he invokes the help of Christ to praise Christ: “Be thou my song, and make Lord me thy pipe”. The image alludes to the ancient concept that the Spirit’s inspiration of the Scripture was like one playing upon an instrument.

At this point, he begins to praise Christ, but chooses an interesting subject for praise — and one that might seem out-of-place if one does not know the context (The Carmin Christi of Philippians 2): the day of Judgment: The song begins before the Incarnation. The Divine Son willingly becomes Incarnate to bear the weight of the Curse and then Ascends in glory – the God-man having been received by God [when we combine the Trinity and the Incarnation, it becomes constantly paradoxical].

But the exaltation of the Son will be not just the reception of God but the entire Creation’s proclamation of his lordship:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9–11 (AV). The bended knee comes about either joyfully or involuntarily as a direct result of Christ’s glory. There is no choice in the matter, the glory of Christ will overwhelm all.

This helps explain Judgment: it is the vindication of Christ. Within Christian theology, it is a sin a to go to Hell and be condemned. Human beings are commanded to repent and be saved. God commands human beings to not go to Hell. Hell was not intended for human beings (it was created for the Devil and his angels). Christ has fully carried the weight of the Curse and will pronounce free grace and forgiveness upon all who will receive it. Thus, it is only continued rebellion against Love which results in damnation.

The great exaltation of Philippians 2 takes place in the vindication of Christ when all Creation (whether joyfully or not) confesses Christ’s lordship.

At this point, Taylor joins the theme of Creation blushing before the glory of Christ and Christ’s return in Judgment. He takes an image from Isaiah concerning the sky rolled upon like a scroll:

Isaiah 34:4 (AV)
4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.

This image is repeated in Revelation and is again explicitly tied to Judgment:
12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

Revelation 6:12–17 (AV)

The sky is rolled up because it cannot stand before Christ’s greater glory. Heaven will be “drained” of angels because the armies of heaven will come with Christ in his return (Revelation 19).

The scene moves from the Descent of Christ to the Judgment Seat:
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Revelation 20:11–12 (AV).

In this last stanza, the glory which overwhelmed Taylor with its beauty, the glory which the Creation could not bear, now becomes an instrument of judgment for those who refused to receive the “Lord of Glory”:

One glimpse, my Lord, of thy bright Judgment Day
And glory piercing through, like fiery darts,
All devils,

Thus, the glory of Christ is a “fiery dart” which pierces “all devils”. There is a pun here based upon Paul’s characterization of the Devil’s attack upon the Saints as an assault of “fiery darts”

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
Ephesians 6:16 (AV).

Taylor ends with a prayer that the glory of Christ will be sufficient to lead him. He would willingly march through Hell to see Christ’s glory on Judgment Day.

Another note on construction: the poem begins and ends with the “bright rays” of Christ. The first rays are seen on the Ascension. The final rays are the prayed for rays of Judgment.