In reading the epistle of Karshish, I had several questions as to how the form of this long poem contributes to its theme. It seems to me that it is only in closely examining the self consciousness of Karshish's account of Christ's resurrection of Lazarus, that we can get to the heart of the poem and begin to question the nature of faith, and in particular Christianity.
This poem is structured as a letter, but an interesting one where the writer does not expect the recipient, Abib, (who I take to be his mentor or possibly employer — "the breeder . . .of what poor skill I boast" line 8) to actually receive it. Out of fear that his patient/messenger, the mysterious Syrian, does not actually deliver the letter, Kashish decides to not send any information that is of value. But at the same time because the Syrian insists on preforming this task he decides to send something, this of course being the account of his encounter with the post-resurrection Lazarus. But whilst this situates the tale as one of mere professional intrest, or mere curiosity, there are elements of embarrassment as well as compulsion throughout his tale starting at line 62:
Yet Stay. . .
Suppose I write what harms not, though he steal?
I half resolve to tell thee, yet I blush,
What set me off a-writing first of all.
An itch I had, sting to write, a tang!
For, be it this town's bareness-- or else
The Man had something in the look of him--
His case has struck me far more than 'tis worth.
In reading the poem, I found more and more, that it was not the actual story which carried the weight of the poem, but the narration and the struggle that Karshish has in conveying his own views of Christ's story to a man whom he respects professionally and who is of the same culture. But then at the same time, Kashish's expectation that the letter will not be delivered lends him a certain sentimental truthfulness in certain passages, where he almost looses himself in the story. Yet at other times, he catches himself, and clarifies points through questioning himself for the sake of his reader, even seeking his approval on line 243-244:
Thou wilt object — why have I not ere this
Sought out the sage himself...
What is the meaning lying in the form of this poem, are we to look at it as an organic budding of true faith, one which is not grounded in tradition, but going against it (Kashish's Arabic tradition)? Is this meant to be a fresh validation of Christianity, taking it at face value, the basic stories of Christ, who has been stripped of all cultural power, and here becomes a healer.
I found Kashish's embarrassed and apologetic tone, surprisingly contemporary. Are there parallels to made between faith in the modern world, where science and secularism has debunked and alienated religion, and troubled budding of Christianity amongst Christ's contemporaries?
What is to be made of the conclusion which seems almost like an outburst, which comes after the letter is closed for the second time, apologetically?
Modified 23 September 2003