The poem based on one of the Bible stories in the New Testament. The story of Judas could be found in The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts respectively.
Judas is the one whom betrayed Jesus to the priests and elders. For thirty pieces of silver, he told the priests and elders, "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold, him fast." The he came to Jesus said, "Hail, master!" and kissed him. However, Judas eventually repented. He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, departed to hang himself.
The poem begins with Judas on his journey to kill himself on an elder tree, for the dreadful deed he did to Jesus. Along his journey, he saw "A pack of hoodlums beating up a man." The unfair treatment of the hooligans on the man touched Judas who runs "to spare his suffering." Judas action of giving the man a hand, made him forgot his identity, where he says "I forgot/My name, my number, how my day began." An important theme can be derived from here, the theme of lost and found of oneself: self-revelation. This theme is often seen and important in Wright's poem. The theme will be further depicted as the poem moves on.
No even did Judas forgot his identity, he even lost his memory of the suffering he caused to Jesus. He could not recall the consolidating of stones and the singing of "amusing songs" used to humiliate Jesus. Most importantly, he does not remember how he bargained for the silver coins, which were the seduction of his crime. The lost of memory by Judas is not his way to escape from his own sin, obvious, it is the first step to his own repentance. This works well with the puritan idea of having to lose oneself before you find the true self.
In the next stanza, the beaten man was described as "Banished from heaven," because he was left "beaten/stripped, kneed, and left to cry" without any assistance from the divine power. Whereas, the man was saved by Judas, whom was a man damned for his awful sin to the great savior of all Christians. "Dropping my rope/aside" means both the putting aside of his suicide notion and the restriction of being selfish, in such a way he can offer his help to the man. "ignored the uniforms" creates the same effect as "Dropping my rope/aside," for "uniforms" can be a symbol for restriction. On the other hand, it also criticizes that leaving the man alone seems to be an uniform reaction most people have; thus, Judas had to "ignored the uniforms," in order to help.
It was at his instant Judas came to realization. He "remember bread" his "flesh had eaten." Bread is offered as "flesh of Jesus" in a form of blessing to his followers. Judas suddenly arrived with the notion of being blessed by Jesus by eating the savior in order to preserve his own "flesh". This refers to his exploitation of Jesus for the silver coins. It also points out the forgiving characteristic of Jesus. The line "The kiss that ate my flesh" is Judas line of repentance, for he eventually understands that the should-be affectionate kiss ends up with the outcome of his damnation. Being denounced harshly "without hope," he still helped the man by holding the man in his arms. This time asking for nothing in return, not a single silver coin. Although he knows that he might not be able to clear himself of the sinful deed and transcends to heaven, he still is able to perform a simple act of kindness to the beaten man.
The poem ends with Judas feeling left without hope due to his sin. However, seemingly it appears to be the opposite of his comment. This is because he came to realize the importance of love could not be measured in the form of material substances. Like the Parables of The Prodigal Son, The Lost Sheep, etc, in the Bible, Judas went through the process of being lost and finally came to self-revelation.
The poem is a sonnet with rhyming system of abab, cdcd, efg,efg. There are 10 syllables in each line. Besides the structure the poem is apparently a dramatic monologue of Judas. The word "Saint" is used with two interpretations. First, to present the ironic image of a damned man who betrayed a savior; second, Judas indeed is a Saint at the end of the poem for he offered help to the beaten man without anything in return.
Wright's poem usually ends with an important concluding line. The last line usually carries an important significant or theme of the whole poem.
P/S: Yes, I like James Wright, especially the poem Lying in a Hammock.