Oscar and Lucinda

The banner for this blog is from Oscar and Lucinda, a gorgeous love story set in Australia and told by the gifted director Gillian Armstrong. Here’s another poem about that unforgettable film, this time treating an episode that comes late in the action but proves decisive as a turn of events. (Spoilers!)

Our hero, played by Ralph Fiennes, has fainted after a terrible journey, and awoken in the amorous embraces of a woman he hardly knows, much to his chagrin. His true love sent him on this great adventure, and he feels he has betrayed his feelings for her, even though he cannot be certain she feels the same for him. He takes refuge in the glass church she designed and manufactured, which he has been given the mission to convey to a remote parish in the Australian hinterlands, as a gift to her dear friend. There he prays, alone and afraid, for a way forward.

The poem here is based loosely on the 51st Psalm, which has a superscript assigning it to the reaction of King David, when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his seduction of Bathsheba (and about the murder of her husband, naturally). Translator Robert Alter suggested that the last few lines of this Psalm could be omitted, as an editorial amendment intended to correct a priestly faux pas in the text (the editors didn’t want readers to slack on their contributions to the priestly revenues). So this poem is a few lines shorter than the Psalm that inspired it.

Dare I pray for grace, out of God’s kindness,
dare I seek to wipe away my own crimes?
Where else could I lay my transgressions out
and beg God to cleanse me of my offense?
For I know, my skin is hot with my crimes,
that reverberate through me even now.
Who have I offended most – my conscience
or my friend? Do I call this act evil?
My father seemed harsh when he passed sentence,
yet my heart now fears he was right to judge.
Perhaps he fathered me in transgression,
and by offending, my mother conceived.
By works, I sought to redeem my secrets;
in happenstance truth conceals great wisdom.
Can this glass chapel lift my heart again
and wash me with a cold spring’s clarity?
Dare I recall the gladness that we felt
when I began this journey for my friend?
Can she avert her thoughts from my offense,
and with warm laughter wipe my fears away?
Can love instill me with lucidity,
renew my vows and give my spirit strength?
Would my father fling me from his presence,
and strip the orders of my faith from me?
Can prayer restore the happiness of chance,
and noble sentiments sustain my soul?
Have I the faith to teach transgressors love,
and bring offenders back to God’s embrace?
Save me from this brutish fate, this bloodshed,
if ever you have tipped the scales for me.
Teach me again to give thanks for my luck.
Speak through this liquid sanctuary’s walls,
help unseal my lips, to praise providence.
For no winnings will atone for my sins,
I know you do not seek indulgences.
God’s hand gathers up a broken spirit.
This shattered heart, I know you will not spurn.

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Filed under Acting, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry

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