[from Morri Creech's Field Knowledge, 2006; reprinted by kind permission of The Waywiser Press, London & Baltimore]
The Crux of Martyrdom
Simone Weil at the sanatorium in Ashford, Kent, England, 1943
It's not that she has given up desire
exactly; more like, it seems, the will to choose —
to swallow bread, potatoes, the ripe pear
a nurse has brought her, which she must refuse
for Christ's sake. Or for her people starving in France.
At first she stayed up late, with prayer and cigarettes,
wrote long lies full of tenderness to her parents
I have never read the story of the barren fig tree
without trembling. I think it is about me
telling of friends in London, the spring's rich blossoms;
yet no word about her health, her body's slow
failure. Day after day the doctors come
complaining of her stubbornness. They know
her. And she, their hopes. Still, she must not choose
to eat, must refuse everything save the logic
of refusal, which she cannot help but choose.
the most beautiful life possible has always seemed
to me one in which everything is determined
So her reason revolves along its course
toward that sure consummation for which she waits.
She waits and waits. Too tired now to rehearse
the poem where Love bade His guest to sit and eat,
she dreams of that attic room He led her to,
where bread was sweet, the wine like sun and soil,
and she could see, beyond the attic window,
He entered my room and spoke: I understood
that He had been mistaken in coming for me
a city's wooden scaffoldings, those boats
unladen by a river, and the sun
raging above the trees . . .
The doctor's coats
Whisper by outside her door. She's alone.
No voice comes down to her; no hallowed word.
Even the headaches have stopped, which once held
her writhing in their vise. And yet she's stirred.
when my headaches were raging, I sometimes
had an intense desire to strike someone
Though it's late, and she's much too tired to write,
she can't quite still the current of ideas
or master her relentless appetite
for thought — philosophy, the worst disease
of a religious mind, perhaps her one
error. For hours she wrestles those abstruse
geometries, turning her whole attention
I will consider men's actions and appetites
as though they were lines, surfaces, and volumes
to the crux of martyrdom. French soldiers
and citizens in thousands have since gone,
quietly or not, to their deaths; how can her
own starvation measure against the ones
who could not choose to choose? Even her days
of factory work — yes, she's felt the strain
of labor, sweating near the furnaces
perhaps He must use even worthless objects
for His purposes: I must tell myself these things
that scorched her hands and fingers long before
Christ, like a migraine, seized her steady mind;
yet always she could have left. And now the war
has jilted her, denying her the blind
hand of necessity. She's made her choice.
The nurse bends down to take her pulse, offering
a sip of tea; but still she must refuse.
if I only had to stretch out my hand to grasp
salvation, I would not put my hand out
And though she's grown too weak to hold a cup
or spoon, she closes her eyes and sees that room,
that attic room, where she was told to sup,
and the long table shimmers, awaiting Him
who will offer her bread, although she must refuse
until He seat her there among the least
and feed them, too, who have no power to choose —
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back
till the Lord whose bread is hunger sets the feast.