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

20 responses to “Theotokos; A Sonnet for Mary

  1. Ah, Malcolm, have just come from a candle-filled Mass at the Santissima Annunziata within site of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo, a Mass celebrated beneath the miracle fresco, begun by a Servite, finished by an angel, of the Annunciation – at the wrong end of the church. I love the way the Virgin so often defies church conventions! It’s a beautiful sonnet, filled with Florentine Dante, and more Catholic even than Catholicism!

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks so much Julia, you must have been the first to read it, and I’m glad it made it way so soon to you and Florence, for it is as you say, filled with the Florentine Dante. Say a prayer for me some day at the Santissima Annunziata, I would love to be there

  2. Mary Wood

    This is a gem. Thank you so much

  3. A beautiful poem. I like the Orthodox overtones of this post and the poem – it seems as if you are more into Christus Victor theology than vicarious atonement. I also like the lines about the rose and the garden.

    I am currently reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which has lots in it about Mary.

    • malcolmguite

      Thank you for this kind and perceptive comment. Although I am an Anglican a lot of my theology is formed and informed by the Greek fathers. I don’t know the secret life of bees, but will look out for it. I was very moved by a book called “The Rose-Garden Game” by eithne Wilkins which is subtitled “a symbolic background to European prayer beads and explores the links between the rosary and the Rosarium or Rose garden.

  4. Ooh I shall have to check that one out.

    Since you appear to be a mystically-inclined Christian, I’d also recommend Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land, about contemplative prayer.

    Ah I see you are interested in the Inklings too, and have Steve Hayes on your blog-roll. Well met indeed!

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks, indeed well met. I have just been on your blog and left a comment about your post on ‘an empty bowl’. In that context you might like this sonnet:
      Singing Bowl
      Begin the song exactly where you are,
      Remain within the world of which you’re made.
      Call nothing common in the earth or air,
      Accept it all and let it be for good.
      Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
      This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood
      And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
      Stay with the music, words will come in time.
      Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.
      Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
      Is richness rising out of emptiness,
      And timelessness resounding into time.
      And when the heart is full of quietness
      Begin the song exactly where you are.

  5. oh and here is the website of the author of The Secret Life of Bees (she has also written some books on contemplation and spirituality, but the The Secret Life of Bees is a novel).

  6. Beautiful and true, Malcolm. Thank you. Ruan

  7. Using it for all of my classes today, and sent it to all of my colleagues here at St. Thomas High School. Our Lady of the Ways, High and Low. Bless you, dear friend!

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Andrew, I’m really glad you managed to share it at St. Thomas’s, it’s moving to know that. I sang Our Lady of the Highway at the Blue Ball last night. Tammy and I both raised a glass in your direction.

  8. Elizabeth

    The ‘God-Bearer’ carries so much more weight and pathos than any other name I’ve heard. Thank you.

  9. David Grieve

    Malcolm, thank you so much for it, so greatly true and moving. I append my own Theotokos poem of a few years ago.
    I am not writing at present but maybe, DV, will again soon


    Plucked from obscurity,
    birth giver of the Son of God,
    you surrendered anonymity
    for the most famous of female names,
    your virginity to the power from on high
    and your respectability to the cutting tongues of gossip.

    Counting the cost,
    birth giver of the Son of God,
    preferring to obey God than to fear people,
    glad to serve the plan for salvation,
    weighing all things up in your heart.

    Enduring pain,
    birth giver of the Son of God,
    you gave life to him who gave it to you;
    you nurtured him and kept him from harm,
    preserving him for the death that lay ahead.

    Losing all,
    birth giver of the Son of God,
    as you watched him slowly die
    along with all your hopes,
    yet receiving more back again
    as you welcomed your risen lord.

    Theotokos, God Bearer,
    birth giver of the Son of God,
    be acclaimed as best of Christians,
    pioneer of him being born in us.

  10. Hi Malcolm,
    In doing a search for poems about Mary I came across Theotokos. I am writing a study for women and would very much like to include it as a prayer to Our Lady under this title. May I have permission to use it? I wlll give you full attribution, of course, and provide your blog site URL if you like.
    Johnnette Benkovic Williams
    Host of Television and Radio, EWTN

    • malcolmguite

      Dear Johnnette yes by all means do so. Just say it is from ‘Sounding The Seasons’ used with the poet’s permission

  11. Mary Ann Zink

    With your permission, I would like to use your poem in a Marian book I am writing. It would lead the chapter as a 21st century poem to Mary. If yes, I would also need a brief biography. Thanks for your consideration.

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