Peter Stitt: On "St. Judas"

[Wright is answering a question about influences on his early work.] When I wrote [The Green Wall, 1957] I was twenty-seven years old. I could tell you the kind of thing I had in mind. I wrote a sonnet called "Saint Judas" and in that sonnet I was trying to do two things technically: to write a sonnet that would be a genuine Petrarchan sonnet and at the same time be a dramatic monologue. I got that idea from [Edwin Arlington] Robinson, who has a sonnet called "How Annandale Went Out." Do you know what went out means? Well, this is conventional hospital parlance for dying. So and so went out last night. Annandale is a character Robinson had written about before, but in this particular sonnet the doctor is speaking. And, as usual in a dramatic monologue, he is speaking to another person, so that what you are doing is overhearing a conversation in which one person speaks and the other is listening. The doctor was a friend pf George Annandale. George Annandale was an alcoholic who was suffering terribly with his death, and so the doctor gave him an injection. That’s what the word engine means in this poem. He gave him an injection which killed him; that is, he administered euthanasia. Then he gets drunk, and in the poem he is talking to another friend of George Annandale’s. What is he trying to do? And Robinson – great Robinson! -- leaves you hanging there saying, yes, what was he trying to do? Here is the sonnet:

"They called it Annandale – and I was there

To flourish, to find words and to attend:

Liar physician, hypocrite, and friend,

I watched him; and the sight was not so fair

As one or two that I have seen elsewhere:

An apparatus not for me to mend –

A wreck, with hell between him and the end,

Remained of Annandale; and I was there.

"I knew the ruin as I knew the man;

So put the two together, if you can,

Remembering the worst you know of me.

Now view yourself as I was, on the spot –"

With a slight kind of engine. Do you see?

Like this … You wouldn’t hang me? I thought not."

Then we have my poem on Judas, who is, I suppose, the ultimate lost betrayer. It is a – well, I wouldn’t call it a literal imitation of Robinson, but if I hadn’t read Robinson’s sonnets I know that I wouldn’t have tried to write that poem.

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Criticism Overview
Title Peter Stitt: On "St. Judas" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Stitt Criticism Target James Wright
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Mar 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "An Interview with James Wright"
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