Beckett: Poetry – The Woman in Adultery

This poem is a mix of an ekphrastic and midrash poem, detailing the painting below by Max Beckmann titled Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, composed in 1917. The account he paints is recorded in John 8:1-11.


©Max Beckmann, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1917

I am elated with desire
as I sit over his naked body,
eager to coil in passion
not because I love him,
but to fill a need left void.

That is when I feel pairs of rough hands
tear me from his bed, dragging limb and hair
up to the Temple and thrown before a rabbi.
In fury, spit flies from their mouths
demanding my stoning for adultery.

On my knees, dress torn, breasts exposed,
I behold their faces, teeth gnashing
with spears exalted toward heaven,
stones raised to be cast,
and a finger pointing in shame.

To whom the finger belongs,
his face averts my filth.
I close my eyes, hands coupled in prayer,
ready to face the wrath of Adonai,
because yes, I am a sinner.

But lo, before me stands Him: the rabbi.
He presses His palm against the crowd,
as if such a gesture forces them back,
and before my face His open hand,
inviting me to grasp.

He commands with authority thunderous:
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I close my eyes, anticipating the pit of Sheol.
But it does not come.
I open my eyes, and behold, the crowd is gone.

Only the rabbi remains,
His hand still open before me.
“Woman,” He says with gentle softness,
“Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
I can only admit in astonishment, “No one, Lord.”

He grasps my hand and lifts me.
“Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on sin no more.”
And for the first time,
I can live free from sin.

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