Monthly Archives: March 2012

Palm Sunday

We come now, with Palm Sunday, to the beginning of Holy Week and in the sonnets that follow I have explored the truth that what was happening ‘out there’ and ‘back then’ as Christ entered Jerusalem is also happening  ‘in here’ and ‘right now’. There is a Jerusalem of the heart. Our inner life also has its temple and palaces, its places of corruption, its gardens of rest, its seat of judgement.

In the sequence of sonnets which begins today I invite you to walk with Christ, and let him walk with you on both an outer and an inner journey that leads to the cross and beyond.

As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the evocative images that accompany these poems. Of the image at the beginning of this post she writes:

– Who stands in the eye of the camera? behind that gate?
– The Savior? or me looking out and seeing in my fellow being an incarnation of the Saviour?

and for the image below she says: ‘this wax the child is melting could symbolise this resistance which becomes the source, the stock of the light that comes from us.’

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem

Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus  come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

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Introducing Margot

Self-Portrait at Pentecost -Margot Krebs Neale

I have been grateful to the Cambridge photographer Margot Krebs Neale for some of the beautiful images which have accompanied my poems on this blog, and I know that many of my readers have found they form not so much an illustration as a commentry, or in some ways a kind of poem in themselves. Some of you have wanted to know a little more about this collaboration and about Margot, so I have asked her to introduce herself in this last interlude’ post before we enter into the more intense sequence of Holy Week Sonnets. Here is what she writes:

“Malcolm kindly suggested introducing Margot. Well, when I was a baby my parents were sent to Poland and there asked a Polish woman, Cenia M. to look after their children during the day. She told stories and I loved them also accompanying stories were dressing up and images. So words translated into the physical world, with their litteral sense and as symbols. Yellow was the sun as much as the sun was yellow. When I went to French schools, stories were somehow replaced for me by poetry. I had a good memory for them but when one teacher punished the excessively talkative pupils by making them learn one stanza during break time and if punished again the next day, two and so on, my memory and taste for poetry grew and grew.
Always I loved expressing with images something of what I had heard. Prayers and songs had a good place in my poetry books, so naturally when I first read Malcolm’s sonnets I did the same, used some of the very large number of photos I have taken since I was eight to reflect what I hear.

“One of the very large number of photos I have taken”

Malcolm shared some of them and gradually \I moved from responding when it sprung form reading/hearing to looking to respond to all poems with more concentration and effort, exchanging views with Malcolm.
My picture for Palm Sunday will I hope illustrate what I like particularly, a picture which can be read in various ways. Who stands in the eye of the camera? The photographer, the writer, the reader, or God himself? The camera is a wonderful instrument for speaking with several voices and remain invisible or choosing not to. I hope my pictures speak my language to tell what I saw but also that they may speak your language to tell you a story you need to hear, Malcolm’s poems do that for me.”

“…and one I took yesterday”

You can see and ‘like’ a facebook page for Margot’s photographs here: Margot’s Page

My next post, for Palm Sunday begins a series I will post each day for Holy Week.


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A Sonnet for the Annunciation

We miss the shimmer of the angels' wings

We come now to the feast of the annunciation, that blessed moment of awareness, assent and transformation in which eternity touches time. In my own small take on this mystery I have thought about vision, what we allow ourselves to be aware of, and also about freedom, the way all things turn on our discernment and freedom.

As always I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the accompanying images, and she has kindly offered the following note for the images that accompany this sonnet:

‘As I was making suggesting a picture for another sonnet, Malcolm said he was working on the Annunciation sonnet. A little cheeky I sent a picture of a beautifully blurred lily wondering if it might help. Malcolm liked it and could see angel wings in it, I thought we needed a face. A young woman of sixteen. One of the many 16 years old I know and love or…myself. I remembered and found this picture of me taken when I was 16 or 17. Why me? Because of the “We” of the first strophe, I read it like an “I” : We see so little, only surfaces, and yet we have a choice.

« Quel fruit lumineux portons-nous dans l’ombre de la chair? » What luminous fruit do we carry in the shade of our flesh?

« un fruit éternel enfant de la chair et de l’Esprit ». An eternal fruit, child of the flesh and the Spirit »

May we be granted the joy of giving it to the light.’

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ buton or on the title.


We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

but on thi day a young girl stopped to see


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A Spring Interlude; ‘Out In The Elements’

In the little space between Mothering Sunday, which was also of course Refreshment Sunday!! (what a relief!) and Passion Sunday, I thought we might have some refreshment and change here as well before resuming the sonnets, so I am posting a new poem which is an experiment in using Spenserian Stanzas. It’s about a walk on a wild wet windy early spring day but as you will see its also about the four elements within and around us and also, perhaps a little meditation on those hints in Paul that in Christ’s redemption and renewal of humanity will also be the redmption, in and through us, of all nature, that ‘the creation waits with eager longing of a hidden glory in us to be revealed’. Anyway I hope you enjoy it.

Once again I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful images which accompany these poems. As usual you can hear it by clicking on the title or on the ‘play’ sign

Out in the Elements

I crunch the gravel on my ravelled walks
And clabber with my boots in the wet clay
For I myself am clay that breathes and talks
Articulated earth, I move and pray
Alive at once to walk and be the way.
The root beneath, the branch above the tree
These hedges bright with blossom, white with May,
Everything concentrates, awaits in me
the coming of the One who sets creation free

Earth opens now to sudden drumming rains,
The raised and falling waters of the sea
Whose tidal pull and play is in my veins
Spilling and spreading, filling, flowing free
Whose ebb and flow is still at work in me
And in the wombing pulse of play and work
When heart beats pushed in waves of empathy
Till waters broke and bore me from the dark
And found this foundered shore and took me from the ark

As rain recedes I pause to fill my pipe
And kindle fire that flickers into light
And lights the leaf all curled and cured and ripe
Within a burr-starred bowl. How fierce and bright
It glows against the cold. And I delight
In taste and fragrance, watching  whisps of grey
And graceful smoke in their brief flight,
As sun breaks from the clouds and lights my way
I feel the fire  that makes the light that makes the day

Now air is all astir in breaks and blasts,
The last grey rags of cloud are blown aside
The hedgerows hush and rustle in the gusts
As clean winds whistle round me. Far and wide
Bent grasses and frail flowers lean aside
I breathe the world in with this brimming breeze
That tugs at me and eddies at my side
Quickens and flickers through the tangled trees
And breathes me back to life and brings me to my knees

Akin to every creature I  will learn
From each and all the meaning of my birth
I love the dust to which I will return
The subtle substance of my mother earth,
From water born by fire fathered forth,
An index and epitome of nature,
I sum and summon all the world is  worth,
And breathing now His elemental air
I find the One  within, without, and everywhere.

I find the One within, without, and everywhere


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Mothering Sunday; a sonnet

...for those who loved and laboured...

Continuing in my series of sonnets for the Church Year I have written this one for Mothering Sunday. It’s a thanksgiving for all parents, especialy for those who bore the fruitful pain of labour, and more particularly in this poem I have singled out for praise those heroic single parents who, for whatever reason, have found themselves bearing alone the burdens, and sharing with no-one the joys of their parenthood.

I am grateful to Oliver  Neale for his thought-provoking work as a photographer, and, as always, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title

Mothering Sunday


At last, in spite of all, a recognition,

For those who loved and laboured for so long,

Who brought us, through that labour, to fruition

To flourish in the place where we belong.

A thanks to those who stayed and did the raising,

Who buckled down and did the work of two,

Whom governments have mocked instead of praising,

Who hid their heart-break and still struggled through,

The single mothers forced onto the edge

Whose work the world has overlooked, neglected,

Invisible to wealth and privilege,

But in whose lives the kingdom is reflected.

Now into Christ our mother church we bring them,

Who shares with them the birth-pangs of His Kingdom.


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Faith Hope and Poetry is out in Paperback!

Since my book Faith Hope and Poetry was published by Ashgate in the Autumn of 2010 a number of people have been asking me when, if ever, there would be a paperback version. This was both because the hardback was very expensive(£55 -their policy not mine!) and also because even the hardback sold out by the middle of last year! Well the good news is Ashgate agreed to a new paperback edition, which costs a lot less (£16.19 from their site!) and it is out now! Official publication date is March the 21st but it is actually available now both from Ashgate and from Amazon. Here is Ashgate’s own ‘flyer’ for the book, which gathers up some of the kinder things that have been said in the various reviews and also gives a link to their page. If you get to the site and the price is in the wrong currency for you then there is a button in the top right hand corner you can click to toggle between Europe and America (wouldn’t it be great if one could also toggle oneself between europe and North america at the touch of a button!) so here’s the flyer:

Faith Hope & Poetry Pbk March 2010

Faith Hope and Poetry takes you through an exploration and celebration of some of the greatest poetry in the English language, its really just me sharing my enthusiasm for these poems. But I had another purpose too. At its heart this book is a defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, as an essential but sadly under-used way of apprehending the truths we need to know to flourish as human beings I tried to sum it all up, at the end of the book, in a two paragraph conclusion and I am going to paste that in here, the final words of the whole book, to give you an idea of what you might be in for if you decide to read it:


This book has been written as both a vindication and a celebration of the poetic imagination; a defence of its status as a truth-bearer and an exploration of the kinds of truth it is capable of bearing. In particular I have been concerned to demonstrate the essential power of imagination to bridge the gap between immanence and transcendence, to mediate meaning between unembodied ‘apprehension’ and embodied ‘comprehension’. I have also been concerned to show that a study of poetic imagination turns out to be a form of theology; that in seeking understand how multiple meanings come to be’ bodied forth’ in finite poems which ‘grow to something of great constancy’ we discover a new understanding of the prime embodiment of all meaning which is the Incarnation. And this new understanding of incarnation in its turn gives us a new confidence in the ultimate significance of our own acts of poetic embodiment. But if poetry as a manifestation of particular embodiment speaks of the immanence of God, then poetry as a means of cleansing and transfiguring vision speaks of God’s transcendence. Throughout this book I have sought to celebrate moments of transfigured vision in poetry, and also to help discern the source of that truth which transfigured vision sees, of that unexpected music which the imagination hears.  In an age of faith it was possible for poets, from the anonymous poet of The Dream of the Rood, who saw the Cross transfigured in light, to Milton invoking ‘holy light’, to find the Source of transfigured vision and to name that source as Christ, the logos and the light of the world. From the mid-17th century onward, things could not be so simple again as poets and philosophers alike faced the challenge of a reductive science that pulled down shutters over the windows of vision, bearing the bleak inscription, ‘nothing else’. We have seen how the poets, to whom the clarification of our vision had been entrusted, fought a rear-guard action, and especially how Coleridge did this both by writing poetry full of clarified, imaginative vision, and also by undertaking the hard, philosophical work necessary to reinstate the imagination as an instrument with which we grasp reality rather than evade it.  We have seen that in order to make sense of the actual experience of writing and reading poetry, he was compelled to rediscover the mystery of God as Holy Trinity.  For Coleridge poetry is not a fanciful compensation for the irreducible bleakness of things; it is part of the evidence that all things are at least potentially luminous with the light of God.  Coleridge was a prophet sent more for our own age than for his; he foresaw the inadequacy of the whole Cartesian/Newtonian model with its foreclosed rigidities and its too-easy submission to what he called the ‘despotism of the eye’.  Now, we live in an age when that rigid system, against which Coleridge was protesting, is being overthrown.  Those blinding shutters inscribed ‘nothing else’ are being drawn up; and now it is not only the major poets in our midst, like Heaney, but also the scientists themselves and the philosophers of science, rediscovering the vital role imagination has to play in their endeavours, who are helping to remove these ‘blinds’.

This cleansing and training of vision through a revitalised imagination, is a common task for Science, Poetry and Theology. My purpose has been to highlight the essential role, in fulfilling this common task, played by the poetic imagination.


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Looking Forward Through Lent, and Some Links

My Motto!

Having concluded my three Lenten sonnets on the three temptations of Christ in the Wilderness, I would like to tell you in advance what is coming up for the rest of Lent, Holy week and Easter in my sonnet series, and also introduce, and give you access to the other Lenten series I am doing, a series of talks called Christ Across Five Frontiers, a Poetic Journey.

The Sonnets

First to the sonnets. There are two festivals or feast days which might be considered little oases, or resting places in the the wilderness journey of Lent, occasions for wonder and gratitude in the midst of the ardour. These are Mothering Sunday, on the 18th of March and the Feast of the Annunciation, which falls on the 25th of March but will be celebrated this year on the 26th, as the 25th is also Passion Sunday. I shall post sonnets for both of these feasts, on their day, but if anyone would like the text of either sonnet in advance for use in their church, just let me know by email and I’ll send you an advanced copy.

I will be resuming a more intense and sequenced pattern of sonnets on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week. The events of Holy Week and Easter are at the very heart of the Christian Faith, and reflection on them forms the essential core of ‘Sounding the Seasons’ the sequence of sonnets for the whole Church Year, which I have been ‘live blogging’ on these pages. Starting on Palm Sunday, and finishing on Easter Sunday I will be posting an integrated sequence of 20 sonnets; including 14 ‘Stations of the Cross’ on Good Friday, and a 15th ‘Resurrection’ station on Easter Sunday. Again anyone who wishes to use these in church or have copies in advance just let me know and I’ll send them. You may like to know that my fellow poet and Christian blogger Dr. Holly Ordway has been podcasting a series of talks based on the Stations sonnets and you can find a link to those here.

Lent Talks and Podcasts

Finally in this roundup, you may like to know that the series of Lent talks I have been giving for St. Edwards church are also available as podcasts. I have given the first two and they are available here: Faith-Doubt, and here: Matter-Spirit. All my podcasts are available via itunes you can see them on my itunes podcast page and you can sign on to recieve them by searcing for my name in your iplayer, or by going to my podomatic home page here. From this page you can explore a number of other sermons and talks on poetry and poets.

In my next blog post I will be bringing you news about the paperback version of my book Faith Hope and Poetry, which has at last been published and giving you a little taste of what’s in it and what the critics have said about it.

The 'Temple of Peace' where many of my sonnets were composed.


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Temptation in the Wilderness (3)

You stand above the world on holy heights

If the first two temptations in the wilderness were in some sense ‘obvious’; the temptation to mere physical satisfaction of appetite, and the temptation to worldly success and power, then the third temptation is subtle and dark, all the darker for pretending to a kind of light, or enlightenment. The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the Temple’ on the height of religious experience and achievement. What could be wrong with that? But the best things, turned bad, are the worst things of all. A ‘religious’  or  ‘spiritual’ life can be riddled with pride and a sense of distinction, judging or looking down on others , despising God’s good creation! Such a twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people. Thanks be to God that in resisting this temptation to spiritual loftiness and display, Jesus shows his solidarity once and for all with all of us, trusting himself to our flesh and blood so that we can trust our flesh and blood to him. He does not look down on us but looks up with the humble eyes of the child of Bethlehem.

The picture above is by Gustave Dore and the one below by Margot Krebs Neale. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

On the Pinnacle

‘Temples and spires are good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

I was not sent to look down from above



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