Andrew Elkins: On "St. Judas"
… Redemption is impossible in Wright’s world, "a world where God has ceased to exist," as [Jerome] Mazzaro characterizes it [in "Dark Water: James Wright’s Early Poetry" in the Centennial Review, 27:2 (1983), p. 143]. However, "consolation," again using Mazzaro’s term, is possible, and that in the figure of Judas. …
[The entire poem is quoted.]
Once again this day, Judas must decide between giving and withholding his love. Now the man who needs his help is a simple man like himself whose only power over Judas, unlike Christ’s or the Roman soldiers’, is his humanity, his human "suffering." Under these altered circumstances, when the one needing Judas is neither God or soldier, a man Judas neither loves, respects nor fears because of his power, he emerges from himself. Judas, "for nothing," for no promise of silver, security or heaven, holds, loves and comforts a fellow man for the sheer sake of that person’s suffering humanity. It is an act of true selfless compassion, a model for us all, "a good and humane action."
Judas emerges as the archetypal symbol of the isolated individual – the "I alone" – romantically defiant to the end, and, in Wright’s inverted theology, replaces Christ as our spiritual exemplar. Wright canonizes Judas, as Peter Stitt notes [in The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty (Athens, Georgia: U Georgia P, 19850, p. 169], "not because he has lived a pure life away from the harsh demands and temptations of reality, but because, like all men, he has redeemed his unspeakable act of human betrayal through an act of love. …Judas … is thus a kind of hero for Wright, representing the most that man can achieve (endurance and love) within the fallen world."