The Private Life Of Saint Etheldreda – John Withers

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
1994 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicators: Elaine Feinstein, David Dabydeen

The Private Life Of Saint Etheldreda
    (also called Aethelthryth and Audrey)

  1. The Baptism

    Beside the Exning bypass, Felix holds
    The Princess Aethelthryth, to be baptised
    At Wendred’s Well. The bishop’s robe enfolds
    The infant as she gazes, mesmerized.
    “I love the way this big man handles me.
    He looks so happy. What can his name be?
    Someone said ‘Jesus’. There it is again:
    ‘In Jesus’ name.’ O, I shall be his bride.”
    Her long- preserved virginity was tried
    And tried again; but his bride she’d remain.

  2. The Husbands

    “I married other men. Tondbert was first.
    I convinced him that chastity would bring
    Eternal bliss to both of us; his thirst
    For which was quickly slaked by death. The king
    My uncle made me wed Prince Egfrith next.
    Promise of heavenly joy had him perplexed
    For ten years. Then he said, ‘I want it now’
    In tears I fled to Colbert’s Head; and there
    God stayed the ebb tide seven days to spare
    Me for His Son, to whom I’ve kept my vow.”

  3. The Tumour

    “Death’s fingers like a necklace round my throat.
    I shouldn’t have worn those beads when I was young;
    A foolish sheep playing the giddy goat.
    The devil knew: though lust was not among
    My sins, there was a touch of vanity.
    I should have built sand churches by the sea
    Like Withburga my sister.” Audrey’s mind
    Is wandering. Body hurts. Her soul is poised
    To taste with Jesus whole, unbodied joys;
    And all that’s tawdry will be left behind.

Copyright © John Withers 1994




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