Descent to the Dead



Down through the tomb’s inward arch

He shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them,

dazed, from dreamless slumber:

the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents and those
unnumbered others waiting
unaware, in an endless void He is now ending, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling.

his neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked

on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here.

 All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.

That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue
from the shadows, more travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, with the tearstained
stifling shroud; to break
back into breath and heartbeat and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen that
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now
and aching for home.

 He must return, 
first, patiently, to know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends  the joy
of giving Him food—fish and a honeycomb.

(adapted from a poem by Denise Levertov (1923–1997)


Christ too suffered for our sins once and for all, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; put to death in the body, he was brought to life in the spirit. In the spirit also he went and made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits…

1 Peter 3:18-19   


One response to “Descent to the Dead

  1. Great adaptation.
    The scriptural text from 1st Peter says it all.
    Thanks Tom,

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