Gospel Villanelle by Andrew Hudgins

“Jesus will always be there.  He’s waiting.  It’s true.”
He wiped his forehead, crooned, began to sway:
“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling you,

O, sinner, come home.  Come start your life anew.
I’ll stand here as the organ gently plays.
Jesus will always be there.  He’s waiting.  It’s true.”

I squirmed and giggled on the furthest pew,
then jabbed my best friend, smirked.  He wouldn’t play.
“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling you.”

Too soft for me.  I picked dirt off my shoe.
I drummed my fingers and watched my best friend pray.
“Jesus will always be there.  He’s waiting.  It’s true.”

Well, let him wait, I thought.  He’s overdue.
We get home after kick-off every Sunday.
“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling you.”

I prayed the preacher’d save a soul or two
so he’d shut up and let me go.  He swayed.
Jesus is always there.  He’s waiting.  It’s true.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling you.

Religion can offer succor and cleansing, community and vision, though Marx had other ideas.  For younger people, who are not ready to decide whether or not a particular denomination’s rituals and belief will suit them, sometimes worship is tedious, its allure slight.  Looking back, the narrator of Andrew Hudgins’ poem recalls the boyish discomfort of Sunday meeting, but at least he does, in the end, remember find that prayer was not altogether useless to him, and the final time he delivers the lines of promise, they have escaped the quotation marks which have previously attributed them to the preacher.  Has the narrator’s perspective shifted, or is it just a trick of light?


“Gospel Villanelle” was originally published in Shenandoah, then in Hudgins’ collection The Glass Hammer (Houghton Mifflin, 1994) and later in Shenandoah‘s anthology Buck and Wing: Southern Poetry at 2000.


recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.