Monthly Archives: September 2011

Michaelmas; a sonnet for the Archangel

Michael's scale is true his blade is bright

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term. The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and following an image from the book of Revelation is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or  a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represent, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free  to discern and choose. He is celebrated and revered in all three Monotheistic religions. There is a good, full account of him here.

Margot Krebs Neal's beautiful response to this poem

Continuing my series of sonnets for the Church Year I have written a Michaelmas sonnet which I post below as always you can hear it by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or the title.


Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,

And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.

He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear

To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

Archangel bring your balance, help me turn

Upon this turning world with you and dance

In the Great Dance. Draw near, help me discern,

And trace the hidden grace in change and chance.

Angel of fire, Love’s fierce radiance,

Drive through the deep until the steep waves part,

Undo the dragon’s sinuous influence

And pierce the clotted darkness in my heart.

Unchain the child you find there, break the spell

And overthrow the tyrannies of Hell.

undo the dragon's sinuous influence


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

Beginning again; re-reading GKC post-9/11

Came ruin and the rain that burns

I have been re-reading GK Chesterton’s astonishing poem The Ballad of the White Horse, the story of how, against all odds, King Alfred the Great resisted the seemingly inevitable collapse of England before the Danes. Chesterton intended his poem not so much as an historical work as a comment on his own times, when he was summoning England to resist the nihilism and despair embodied in the writings of Nietzsche and others. But it became again and again a poem of succeeding times, because it is a poem about the courage to begin again when evrything seems lost. When France fell and England seemed open to swift and inevitable invasion by the Nazis, the times leader was headlined by a quotation from this poem “Naught for your Comfort” which expressed at once the bleakness of our situation and a call to hope and resistance, for the lines go on:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,

Yea, naught for your desire,

Save that the sky grows darker yet

And the sea rises higher.


“Night shall be thrice night over you,

And heaven an iron cope.

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?”

That same phrase ‘Nought for your Comfor’t was taken up again by Trevor Huddleston in the great struggle against appartheid. Now it sems to me a we come to remember the fall of the twin towers that another part of this great poem can speak to us afresh.

I am reading from a point in the poem where Alfred has been apparently routed at Ethandune and his men are about to give up and accept the inevitability of destruction and defeat. Chesterton suddenly introduce the image of a child patiently building and rebuilding a tower that keeps falling. That child-like capacity to renew and begin again, seems a good thing to remember today

As always you can here me reading the extract on audioboo by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the link in the words ‘beginning again’

From Book VII Ethandune: The Last Charge

Beginning Again

Away in the waste of White Horse Down

An idle child alone

Played some small game through hours that pass,

And patiently would pluck the grass,

Patiently push the stone.


On the lean, green edge for ever,

Where the blank chalk touched the turf,

The child played on, alone, divine,

As a child plays on the last line

That sunders sand and surf.


Through the long infant hours like days

He built one tower in vain–

Piled up small stones to make a town,

And evermore the stones fell down,

And he piled them up again.

And crimson kings on battle-towers,

And saints on Gothic spires,

And hermits on their peaks of snow,

And heroes on their pyres,

And patriots riding royally,

That rush the rocking town,

Stretch hands, and hunger and aspire,

Seeking to mount where high and higher,

The child whom Time can never tire,

Sings over White Horse Down.


And this was the might of Alfred,

At the ending of the way;

He saw wheels break and work run back

And all things as they were;

And his heart was orbed like victory

And simple like despair.


And as a child whose bricks fall down

Re-piles them o’er and o’er,

Came ruin and the rain that burns,

Returning as a wheel returns,

And crouching in the furze and ferns

He began his life once more.


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Theotokos; A Sonnet for Mary

The Theotokos of vladimirToday the Church of England keeps the feast of the Blesed Virgin Mary, fulfilling the scripture that says “All generations will call me blessed”, remembering the one who bore our saviour for us, who was full of grace.

She has been given many titles down the ages and some Christians have disagreed with one another bitterly about her. But equally, in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope and an inspiration. In a strange way, which I will write about in another post, she was a sign of hope to me even before I was a Christian, and it was something numinous and beautiful in the paintings and poetry she has inspired that helped lead me to her Son.

Her earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faifth, before the divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. she is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is  born and given to another.

So here is my sonnet for her. I have taken a small liberty with one of Dante’s finest lines, when through the eyes of St. Bernard, he gives us a glimpse of her in heaven.

These sonnets now form part of Sounding the Seasons, a longer sequence of seventy sonnets for the Christian Year. It is out now, published by Canterbury Press. You can buy it from them, from Amazon, or order it through your local bookstore.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears, or clicking on the title.


You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild
Waves suround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.


Filed under christianity, Poems

A glorious wedding and a sonnet to suit.

Joanna and Nicholas; a picture of joy! (Photo:Paul Clarke)

I had the great joy of preaching, in Portsmouth Cathedral at the wedding of my good friend Joanna Jepson, who is a well-spring and a great blessing to those who know her. She and her fiance had asked me for a poem as a wedding present and I was happy to oblige. I post it here with their permission in the hope that as well as being personal and particular to them, whose names are as it were watermarked into all I have written, it may also speak to other couples too.

As always you can hear it on audioboo by clicking on the play button if it appears or on the title of the poem


If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation 2 Cor.5:17

Now you have come at last to the first day
Inside that Love whose end is to begin.
Circles and spirals find their hidden way
Home to this centre where they hold and stay.
Old lives renew and quicken from within,
Love is the fountain in whose flow and play
All that you are is cleansed of every stain.
Singly you die and doubly live again.

Joy is alive in you like hidden grain
Open and growing in your common life
As you become each other’s dew and rain
Nurturing God’s good garden. Man and wife,
Now and forever, stand before your Lord
And be created by his Living Word.



Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems