The Words for ‘What If…’

Since I mentioned my poem ‘What If’ in the previous post and linked to my audioboo reading of it, various people have asked me for a copy of the words, so here they are, including the quotation from Mathew’s Gospel which is the poem’s point of departure. when I first posted this poem on facebook I prefaced it with this remark:

For different reasons we have all on both sides of the Atlantic, been reflecting on the way our words can travel and unravel beyond us, on the need to care for the tenor of what we say, here’s a poem reflecting further on that:

What If…

But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Mathew 12:36-37

What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume gathers weigh,
Drums and dins us with dismay
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?

What if not a word is lost,
What if every word we cast
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste
Echoes to us from the past
Fares and finds us first and last
Haunts and hunts us down?

What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration
Every oath and imprecation,
Insidious insinuation,
Every blogger’s aberration,
Every facebook fabrication
Every twittered titivation,
Unexamined asservation
Idiotic iteration,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?

What if each polite evasion
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Querulous prevarication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation
False or flattering peruasion,
Blackmail and manipulation
Simulated desparation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?

Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
O Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do not bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.


Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems, politics

13 responses to “The Words for ‘What If…’

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Words for ‘What If…’ | Malcolm Guite --

  2. Ed

    Wow – what a powerful poem! The line “tongues of fire and violence” spoke particularly to me.

  3. Serena

    Wow. Is it ok if I use this and/or your audioboo in a service on Sunday? I’m talking on Anger (part of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins) and this could work really well.

    • malcolmguite

      Dear Serena, yes that’s fine, glad you find it helpful, please feel free to use both the words and the audioboo. if you print the words it would be great if you could print a link to the site

      • Serena

        Thank you, Malcolm. I think your poem went down really well and gave people plenty to think about. We didn’t print the words in the service, but I have linked back to this post from Facebook.

  4. malcolmguite

    Thanks. Glad it went well

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  8. Steven

    Wow such a powerful poem. May I use this for Sunday service…I will of course acknowledge and tie to your site. Heard you on CBC tapestry today and was blown away!

  9. malcolmguite


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