Gloss to Matthew V 27–28


What wisdom and beauty his Sermon on the Mount
Displays, what energy and prophetic fire!
Yet one phrase, for which I still cannot account,
Reveals the innocence of the young Messiah.

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery!’ We concur
In what was said of old. Now hear the harder part:
‘He who looks on a woman to lust after her,
Has committed adultery already in his heart.’

I have often pondered, and I ponder still
That astonishing statement which condemns desire.
Did he think it possible by a mere act of will
To ward off lightning, douse unquenchable fire?

Was it easier for a son of God to smother
Thoughts innate to the rest of humankind?
Or did perhaps, having a virgin mother
Endow him, rather, with a virgin mind?

He was not prurient; he was no puritan;
His mind was generous as the gospel records.
He called himself Son of God, but also Son of Man:
Which of his two natures spoke those daunting words?

Their inhumanity is what makes them odd.
I hold with Blake: ‘The nakedness of woman
Is the glory of God!’ I answer the Son of God:
Adultery in the heart proclaims me human.

When she moves in her beauty, the heart responds unbidden.
Too late then to deny involuntary delight.
And surely he knew how things suppressed and hidden
Infect us with dreams to dupe us in the night.

He spoke, some will say, not of rational admiration
But of animal passion. To take these feelings apart
I offer them Occam’s razor for their operation
Of excluding Love from Adultery in the Heart.

It cannot be done. Each interfuses the other,
Partakes of the other’s nature as water mingles with wine.
To condemn desire is to deny and smother
The root of love. But I take a harder line.

Against that phrase, whose sense, I am afraid,
Duly considered borders on the obscene,
I invoke Peter’s dream: ‘What God has made
Call not thou common or unclean!’

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