The Whole Story

by Margaret Avison

Behind that stone before
it was rolled away
a corpse lay.
There lay all I deplore:
fear, truculence – much more
that to any other I need not say.
But behind that stone I must be sure
of deadness, to allay
self-doubt i.e. so nearly to ignore
the love and sacrifice for our
release; to nearly stray
back into the old
pursuit of virtue.

Once it is clear
it was a corpse that day,
then, then, we know the glory
of the clean place, the floor
of rock, those linens, know the hour
of His inexplicable “Peace;” the pour
— after He went away —
of wonder, readiness, simplicity,
given.

Notes on the Poem

The judges quoted possibly the sweetest line from Margaret Avison's poem "The Whole Story" in their citation for the 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Concrete and Wild Carrot: "Avison’s poetry is also alive in its sublimity and its humility: ‘wonder, readiness, simplicity’ – the gifts of perception Avison attributes to her Christian faith – imbue every poem in this book with a rare spirit of disorderly love." If a poem is predicated on knowledge of the story to which it alludes, is the poem's power, relevance, message and so on lost if a reader is not familiar with the story? Can a poem still convey something meaningful absent of the symbolic underpinning of the images in it? In 2006, evangelical publication The Christian Post noted with concern that a significant percentage of Christians weren't up on their Bible stories. How then is someone with a different or no religious tradition to absorb what Avison's poem has to say? If you google "stone rolled away" or "roll away stone", the results might or might not send you in a direction Avison intended. (Some searches unearth Bible verses, other Mumford and Sons lyrics.) Perhaps it's best to start by relishing the simple words in and of themselves. Although "her Christian faith – [imbues] every poem in this book", do you think this poem has beauty independent of that influence?

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