The Civil Power
translated from the Russian by Seamus Heaney
When the great event was happening on the cross
And the racked godhead perished in extremis,
Then, at that solemn moment, on either side
Of the life-abounding tree, two women stood
Steadfast and in pain:
The Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.
But nowadays beneath that blessed crossbar
What you see’s not holy women but two guards
Like sentries at the city governor’s door,
Armed men in shakoes, stern and sinister.
Can someone say why the area is secured?
Is the crucifixion now state-owned and sponsored?
A facility sealed off from thieves and vermin?
Or can it be the authorities imagine
This adds distinction to the king of kings?
Or that this show of force, this sentry-posting,
Can save the master whose obedience
Commits his flesh to the scourge and nail and lance?
Or are they scared that the common people’s presence
Will offend the one who died with criminals
For the whole tribe of Adam? And refuse them entry
So as not to overcrowd the strolling gentry?
From The Translations of Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022) by Seamus Heaney. Translated from the Russian by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 2022 by The Estate of Seamus Heaney. Used with the permission of the publisher.