Synopsis of St Mary Magdalene

The poem comes in Crashaw's volume of poetry entitled Carmen Deo Nostro (Song to our God), published after his death. Most of the religious poems for which he is known occur in this volume, which mainly represents poems he wrote in exile in France or Italy after his conversion to Roman Catholicism. It is a poem, strongly influenced by Catholicism and very different from other religious poems of the Metaphysicals. A good comparison would be to Andrew Marvell's Eyes and Tears, a Protestant reworking of the same story.

The weeping woman

Feast of Simon the Pharisee by Peter Paul RubensThe title names Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus' followers in the Gospel accounts of the New Testament. She has sometimes been taken to be the unnamed woman, described in the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50 as a ‘sinner', who comes to Jesus weeping, bathes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, then kisses and anoints them with costly perfume. It is a dramatic moment in Jesus' ministry, and triggers a dispute over grace and forgiveness. The religious leaders are shocked that Jesus allowed her to touch him, since she was either a prostitute or had lived immorally, and therefore was considered by them to defile any man she touched or who looked at her.

A drama of weeping

Interestingly, Crashaw is not interested in the drama of either the encounter with Jesus or the lady who witnessed the crucifixion. He creates his own drama of tears through the extended conceit of her continuous weeping. She never stops!

  • Crashaw's style is often called ‘Rococo', an architectural term
    • Look up the term
    • How it might be applied to poetry?
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