The Ballad of Lost Souls

by John Oxenham

William Arthur Dunkerley

With the thirty pieces of silver,
They bought the Potter's Field;
For none would have the blood-money
And the interest it might yield.
The Place of Blood for the Price of Blood,
And that was meet, I ween,
For there they would bury the dead who died
In frowardness and sin.
And the first man they would bury there
Was Judas Iscariot;
And that was as dreadful a burying
As ever was, I wot.
For the sick earth would not keep him;
Each time it thrust him out,
And they that would have buried him
Stood shuddering round about.
And others they would bury
In that unhallowed spot,
But honest earth would none of them,
Because of Iscariot.
And oh, it was a fell, fell place,
With dead black trees all round,
And a quag that boiled and writhed and coiled
Where had been solid ground.
For every tree that stood there,
And the green grass every blade,
Shrivelled and died on every side,
Whenever the price was paid.
And in despair they left him there,
And there his body lay,
Till his sad soul came, all black with shame,
And carried it away.
And those denied a sepulture
In that most dismal spot,
Gibbered and flew, a ghastly crew,
Incensed with rage, that grew and grew,
Against Iscariot.
For their souls were all in torment,
While their bodies uncovered lay,
And never a moment's rest was theirs,
Either by night or day.
That was a place of wailings,
And the grisly things of Death,--
The bare black arms of the trees above,
And the black quag underneath.
No light of the moon fell on it,
Nor ever a star did shine
On the quivering face of that dread place,
Because of Iscariot's sin.
Then there came by the soul of Iscariot,
The same who sold his Lord,
And he dragged his body after him,
But never spake a word.
Since earth his body would not,
He must drag it to and fro,
He had tried in vain to be quit of it,
But it would not let him go.
So the soul of Judas Iscariot
Came by the Potter's Field,
And there the ill his deed had wrought
Was unto him revealed.
And when the others saw him,
They leaped at him eagerly;--
"This is he for whom we suffer!
--'Tis he! 'Tis he! 'Tis he!"
Then all afire with mad desire,
They chased him through the dark,
And each soul carried his dead bodie,
Grim, and stiff, and stark.
They struck at him with their bodies,
They cursed him for his sin,
They made to tear his dumb soul there,
With their fingers long and lean.
And Judas fled in his horror,
With that fell crew behind,
And as they sped the people said
Death rode upon the wind.
They chased him near, they chased him far,
Because of his treachery,
And ever he just escaped their lust,
And ever they were nigh.
They chased him near, they chased him far,
And ever they were nigh,
And never a star shone out on them
Out of the cold black sky.
And as they sped by Calvary,
There were empty crosses three,--
And on the ground, below the mound,
Lay one in agony.
"_Three times I swore I knew Him not,
And then--He looked on me.
Ah, such a look!--no harshest word
Had ever proved so sharp a sword
To my inconstancy_.
"_Three times I did deny Thee, Lord!
And yet, thou couldst forgive,
Now am I thine--in life, in death;
Thee will I serve with every breath,
While I have breath to give_."
They sped by an open window,
Where one knelt all alone,
In great amaze, in greater grief,
In woe that wrestled with belief,
The Mother mourned her Son.
"_My son, I knew thee more than man,--
Ah me!--and the heart of me!
Yet, man in God, and God in man,
Still wast thou part of me_.
"_The nails through thy dear hands and feet,--
Ah me! they pierced my own.
The thorns that on thy brow they plied,--
The spear they drove into thy side,--
The pangs thy Godhead could not hide,--
They pierced me too, my son_.
"_My son! My son! My more than son,
My heart is full for thee!
Yet, tho' I know thee so much more
Than ever mortal man before,--
Yet, tho' I worship and adore,--
Woe's me!--and the heart of me_!"
And ever they came by the Potter's Field,
And thrust their bodies in,
And ever the sick earth spat them out,
Because of Iscariot's sin.
They sped along a palace-wall,
The feast waxed high inside,--
On Golgotha the Cross still stood,
The Cross where man had nailed his God,
Red was the Rood still with his blood,--
They drank--"_The Crucified_!"
The revel gashed the sombre night,
And fast the wine-cups plied,--
Time touched Eternity that day;--
God had come down to man that day;--
The world began anew that day;--
They drank--"_The Crucified_!"
And ever again to the Potter's Field,
The Souls in torment came,
But the black quag boiled and writhed and coiled,
And would have none of them.
And everywhere strange shapes of death
Walked in the fearsome gloom,
For that last cry from Calvary
Had rent in twain the Temple vail,
And burst the gates of Doom.
Through all the startled city, walked
The saints that had been dead,
And to the sorrowful in heart
Holy comfort ministred.
And when they met Iscariot,
Sore hounded in the chase,
They cried to him, for the Love of God,
To seek God's grace.
And ever to the Field of Death,
The souls in torment came,
Seeking the rest of the Blessed Dead,--
But earth would none of them.
And as they whirled through a garden,
They came on an empty tomb,
The stone was gone, a soft light shone
Full softly on the gloom.
Bright was that Light, and wondrous bright,
'Twas brighter than the sun;
As then it shone, so shines it now,
And shall when Time is done.
And all along the pathway
Was a track of throbbing light;
Where the Christ had gone His footsteps shone,
Like stars in a velvet night.
'Twas the spent soul of Iscariot
Was like the wind-blown dust,
As nearer still, and near, and near,
He bent and crept, in doubt, and fear,
He came because he must.
'Twas the sick soul of Iscariot
That drew from out the night
And the full of his sin was known to him
In the Shining of the Light.
In the rim of the Light he laid him,
Repented of his sin.
"_I wotted not! I wotted not!
Dear Master, take me in_!"
And as he lay there sorrowing,
Up came the felon crew.
They flailed him with their dead bodies
They heeded not his rue.
They flailed him with their dead bodies,
They heeded not their spleen.
"_I wotted not! I wotted not!
Dear Master, take me in_!"
And then ... a Vision and a Voice,--
And the Word made manifest,--
"_Lay down thy load where I abode,
And I will give thee rest_!
"_And ye,--no more hunt Iscariot!
He repents him of his sin.
And never a soul that repenteth
But he may enter in_.
"_This Day the Door is opened
That shall never close again,
And never a soul that would come in
Shall seek to come in vain_."
And the dead soul of Iscariot
Was born again that night;
For the Lord Christ came dead souls to claim
And lead them into Light.
And the souls of the unburied,
When they looked upon His face,
Were cleansed of sin and entered in
To His redeeming grace.
So, by that wonderful great Love
Which highest heaven extols,--
To Mother Earth their dead bodies,
And unto Christ their souls.

Last updated January 14, 2019