Poem introduction

Once, quite by accident, I opened a Bible with a postcard stuck in it at the story of Judith in the Apocrypha. Judith was the Jewish heroine who saved the Jews by killing Holofernes who was the general of the army besieging them. She dressed up as a prostitute and went to his tent and murdered him. And I was always amazed that she was considered to be a good woman - her motivation too in doing this. And then I discovered reading the story that her husband had died and she was in a state of grief and the rage of grief and somehow she had nothing to lose and she used the power of that grief and anger to carry out this incredibly brave act. So I wrote the poem in her voice.

Judith

Judith

Wondering how a good woman can murder
I enter the tent of Holofernes,
holding in one hand his long oiled hair
and in the other, raised above
his sleeping, wine flushed face,
his falchion with its unsheathed
curved blade. And I feel a rush
of tenderness, a longing
to put down my weapon, to lie
sheltered and safe in a warrior's
fumy sweat, under the emerald stars
of his purple and gold canopy,
to melt like a sweet on his tongue
to nothing. And I remember the glare
of the barley field; my husband
pushing away the sponge I pressed
to his burning head; the stubble
puncturing my feet as I ran,
flinging myself on a body
that was already cooling
and stiffening; and the nights
when I lay on the roof - my emptiness
like the emptiness of a temple
with the doors kicked in; and the mornings
when I rolled in the ash of the fire
just to be touched and dirtied
by something. And I bring my blade
down on his neck - and it's easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.


from The Handless Maiden (Jonathan Cape 1994), copyright © Vicki Feaver 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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