Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SIMON SURNAMED PETER, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SIMON SURNAMED PETER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Time that has lifted you over them all
Last Line: Gnarled branch of the vine!
Subject(s): Apostles; Bible; Disciples, Twelve

Time that has lifted you over them all --
O'er John and o'er Paul;
Writ you in capitals, made you the chief
Word on the leaf --
How did you, Peter, when ne'er on His breast
You leaned and were blest --
And none except Judas and you broke the faith
To the day of His death, --
You, Peter, the fisherman, worthy of blame,
Arise to this fame?

'Twas you in the garden who fell into sleep
And the watch failed to keep,
When Jesus was praying and pressed with the weight
Of the oncoming fate.
'Twas you in the court of the palace who warmed
Your hands as you stormed
At the damsel, denying Him thrice, when she cried:
"He walked at his side!"
You, Peter, a wave, a star among clouds, a reed in the wind,
A guide of the blind,
Both smiter and flyer, but human always, I protest,
Beyond all the rest.

When at night by the boat on the sea He appeared,
Did you wait till he neared?
You leaped in the water, not dreading the worst
In your joy to be first
To greet Him and tell Him of all that had passed
Since you saw Him the last.
You had slept while He watched, but fierce were you, fierce and awake
When they sought Him to take,
And cursing, no doubt, as you smote off, as one of the least,
The ear of the priest.

Then Andrew and all of them fled, but you followed Him, hoping for strength
To save him at length
Till you lied to the damsel, oh penitent Peter, and crept,
Into hiding and wept.

Oh well! But he asked all the twelve, "Who am I?"
And who made reply?
As you leaped in the sea, so you spoke as you smote with the sword;
"Thou art Christ, even Lord!"
John leaned on His breast, but he asked you, your strength to foresee,
"Nay, lovest thou me?"
Thrice over, as thrice you denied Him, and chose you to lead
His sheep and to feed;
And gave you, He said, the keys of the den and the fold
To have and to hold.
You were a poor jailer, oh Peter, the dreamer, who saw
The death of the law
In the dream of the vessel that held all the four-footed beasts,
Unclean for the priests;
And heard in the vision a trumpet that all men are worth
The peace of the earth
And rapture of heaven hereafter, -- oh Peter, what power
Was yours in that hour:
You warder and jailer and sealer of fates and decrees,
To use the big keys
With which to reveal and fling wide all the soul and the scheme
Of the Galilee dream,
When you flashed in a trice, as later you smote with the sword:
"Thou art Christ, even Lord!"

We men, Simon Peter, we men also give you the crown
O'er Paul and o'er John.
We write you in capitals, make you the chief
Word on the leaf.
We know you as one of our flesh, and 'tis well
You are warder of hell,
And heaven's gatekeeper forever to bind and to loose --
Keep the keys if you choose.
Not rock of you, fire of you make you sublime
In the annals of time.
You were called by Him, Peter, a rock, but we give you the name
Of Peter the Flame.
For you struck a spark, as the spark from the shock
Of steel upon rock.
The rock has his use but the flame gives the light
In the way in the night: --
Oh, Peter, the dreamer, impetuous, human, divine,
Gnarled branch of the vine!

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