~ A bit of joie de vivre, a comprehensive joy of life, with an occasional edge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Prices We Pay

Why is the price we pay for eliminating hatred and evil so steep?

Do you remember the late actor Richard Harris? You might remember him as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. If you're older, you might also remember him as the English aristocrat and later prisoner in a film by the name of A Man Called Horse (1970), or for his role in film version of the Broadway production of the musical Camelot (1967). There was a time, however, that he was known as much as a singer as he was for his acting roles, and he made the Billboard Singles Charts on six occasions, starting with "MacArthur Park" in 1968.

One of the other times was in 1972, when he released "There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross", more of a narrative poem set to music than anything. It was found on his LP entitled His Greatest Performances. It came from a poem of the same name published in the only poetry book Harris ever wrote, I, In The Membership of My Days, which was also published in 1972.

The various place names, the "Orange" and the "Green," and the fact that Harris was Irish, make it obvious his specific subject was the bitter conflict between Protestant (orange) and Catholic (green) in Northern Ireland. He spoke out quite frequently on his frustrations with that conflict, which had spawned so much hatred and taken so many lives, and mostly in the apparent name of religious differences.
Like all great poetry though, it rings true in a much broader context.

There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross
Written & Performed by Richard Harris.
There are too many saviors on my cross,
lending their blood
to flood out my ballot box
with needs of their own.
Who put you there?
told you that was your place?

You carry me secretly naked in your heart,
and clothe me publicly in armor,
crying God is on our side.
I openly cry
who is on mine?
You who bury your sons and cripple your fathers,
whilst you bury my Father in crippling his son.
The antiquated Saxon sword,
rusty in its scabbard of time now rises.
You gave it cause in my name
bringing shame to the thorned head
that once bled for your salvation.
I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
north and south,
and my cavalry looms again,
in rebirth.
Your earth is partitioned,
but in contrition
it is the partition in your hearts
that you must abolish.
nightly watchers of Gethsemane,
who sat through my nightly trial,
delivering me from evil,
now deserted.
I watch you share your silver,
your purse rich in hate,
bleeds my veins of love,
shattering my bone
in the dust of the Bogside and the Shankhill Road.
There is no issue stronger
than the tissue of love,
no need
as holy
as the palm outstretched
in the run of generosity;
no monstrosity greater
than the acre you inflict
Who gave you the right to increase your fold,
decrease the pastors of my flock?
Who gave you the right?
Who gave it to you?
And in whose name do you fight?

I am not in heaven,
I am here,
hear me.
I am in you,
feel me.
I am of you,
be me.
I am with you,
see me.
I am for you,
need me.
I am all mankind;
only through kindness,
will you reach me.
What masked
and bannered men
can rock the ark
and navigate a course
to their anointed kingdom come?
Who sailed their captain
to waters
that they troubled in my font,
sinking in the ignorant seas of prejudice.
There is no virgin willing
to conceive in the heat
of any bloody Sunday.
You crippled children,
lying in cries
on Derry's streets,
pushing your innocence
to the full flush face
of Christian guns
(battling the blame on each other).
Do not grow tongues
in your dying dumb wounds speaking my name;
I am not your prize.
In your death,
you have exorcised me in your game of politics.
Go home to your knees,
and worship me in any cloth,
as I was never tailor-made.
Who told you I was?
Who gave you the right to think it?

Take your beads
in your crippled hands;
can you count my decades?
Take my love in your crippled hearts;
can you count the loss?
I am not Orange,
I am not Green;
I am a half-ripe fruit
needing both colors
to grow into ripeness.
Shame on you to have withered my orchard.
in my poverty
without trust
shame on you!
Shame on you again and again,
converting me into a bullet,
and shooting me into men's hearts
The ageless legend of my trial grows old
in the youth of your pulse,
staggering shamelessly from barricade to grave,
filing in the book of history.
My needless death one April
let me,
in my betrayal,
lie low in my grave,
and you in your bitterness
lie low in yours,
for our measurements grow strangely dissimilar.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
sullied be thy name!

By Richard Harris, from I, In The Membership of My Days, Random House, New York, 1972. The CD release of this narrative can be found on Disc 2 of My Boy/Slides, a 2005 release which has limited availability.
Late in his life, Richard Harris offered a strong performance as as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000), and he became known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone(2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role was as Lucius Sulla in Julius Caesar (2002). He passed away from Hodgkin's Disease on October 25, 2002.
  • Note: The above is an edited and updated version of a column that I posted elsewhere on 11/02/2006, but the message in the narrative poem seems to still ring all too true today.

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Moni said...

Wow! The poem was succinctly beautiful. I never knew Richard Harris was a singer and poet. He was truly talented.

Anonymous said...

I am in ahhhhhhhhhh of this beautiful poem.I see a lot of pains but also healing ,hope ,and somewhat some part of conversion.It is so very well written though, that a person of faith can see and read in between the line where he is going .I thank you for sharing this with me.God bless you abundantly today and always †