In 1909, Ezra Pound published a poem as a personal attack on what he considered the effeminate portrayals of Jesus in popular turn-of-the-century devotional writing––portrayals he found cheap and irreverent. His poem is called The Ballad of the Goodly Fere, which in modern parlance would be The Ballad of the Worthy Mate.
If you’ve ever read Pound’s poetry, then you know that as strange and beautiful as his language can be, if you want to know what it means, it takes a bit of work. But for this particular poem, Pound altered his method. “For the first time in my life,” he explained, “I had written something that everyone could understand, and I wanted it to go to the people.” So my good people, here are a few lines from Ezra Pound’s poem…
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
When I first read those words, wow did they strike chord with me, both with their style and their content; so much so, that I couldn’t hold back from composing my own little ditty, The Christian Pirate’s Drinking Song. Here’s a quick sample…
Yo ho ho
Christ is the man for me,
The man who died on a tree
He shed his blood,
and he scrubbed my crud
Yo ho ho
I know: that might not age quite as well as the ballad by Mr. Pound. But my sons like it, and it’s a solid alternative to “Fifteen Men on the Dead Man’s Chest,” when we’re all dressed as pirates, running around in the back yard with our cutlasses raised.
Regardless of their divergent poetic virtues, however, the message of both these works is the same: We have a Lord who is more than the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” of popular devotion. He was a man among men in every sense of the phrase.
First, he had courage. As we heard this past Sunday, Jesus knew when it was time to stand up for something and really stick his neck out. As his disciples, we need to follow his lead, and not shy away when we should be standing up.
Second, he was human. Whatever consequences were rained down on him as a result of his stand––betrayals, beatings, and death––they were consequences he would experience as a mortal human being. And this should give us courage, because it means that Jesus has gone before us. As ourselves fragile mortals, we have a Lord who knows what it’s like to stand against the crowd and face humiliation, even unto death. And the really good news is that his death was not the end, for as the ballad says…
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.
The physical resurrection of our goodly fere is an invitation to courage, because no matter what happens to us in this life, if we are in him, we will share in his resurrection. So whenever you feel like slinking away from your calling in Christ, remember the words of another worthy mate, our good apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:8-13…
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead… for if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful––for he cannot deny himself.
You may not have the words of a poet like Pound, but you can live your life as a ballad to your Lord.
Pastor Daren Redekopp
p.s. This Sunday we arrive at John 3:16, the greatest passage in the entire Bible. This would be the day to bring along a friend.
p.p.s. If you haven’t yet heard our daily advent podcast, click here and catch up.