Today is St. Mark’s day and so publish my sonnet on St. Mark’s Gospel, one of a set of four on each of the four evangelists. For each of these sonnets I have meditated on the way the traditional asociation of each of he evangelists with one of the ‘four living creatures’ round the throne helps us to focus on the particular gifts and emphasis of that Gospel writer. For a good account of this tradition click here. Mark is the Lion. There is a power, a dynamic a swiftness of pace in Mark, his favourite word is ‘immediately’! and that suits the lion. His Gospel starts in the wilderness and that suits it too.
But the great paradox in Mark is that the Gospel writer who shows us Christ at his most decisive, powerful, startling and leonine is also the one who shows us how our conquering lion, our true Aslan, deliberately entered into suffering and passion, the great ‘doer’ letting things be done unto him. In this sonnet, I am especially indebted to WH Vanstone’s brilliant reading of this aspect of Mark in his wonderful book The Stature of Waiting.
For all four ‘Gospel’ sonnets I have also drawn o the visual imagery of the Lindesfarne Gospels, as in the one illustrated above. Margot Krebs Neale has given me the beautiful image below taken in Galillee in Beth Shean,
As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.
A wingèd lion, swift, immediate
Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift
From first to last, from grand to intimate,
From strength to weakness, and from debt to gift,
From a wide deserts haunted emptiness
To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,
From a voice crying in the wilderness
To angels in an empty sepulcher.
And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;
From swift action as a strong Messiah
Casting the very demons back to hell
To slow pain, and death as a pariah.
We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade
And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.
5 responses to “A Sonnet for St. Mark”
Marvelous sonnet! I have clipped a copy onto the first page of Mark’s gospel in the Bible I use for reading the morning office and plan to do so for the other three gospels as they come along. Your invocation of the four beast tradition reminded me of a line from Harry Farra’s “The Little Monk” – “The Gospel of Matthew shows us the value of order. The Gospel of Mark shows us the power of action. The Gospel of Luke shows us the need for wholeness and the Gospel of John shows us the love of God.”
Thanks Doug. And thanks for that quote from the little monk, that’s excellent. The sonnet for St. Luke is already up on my blog, just type ‘Luke’ in the sidebar on my blog and you’ll get it. Yours Malcolm
Hmm, brilliant! The last line is haunting until I recognize it as the call to love over death.
This is my first reading of your work. I heard about you through friends attending the recent conference at Duke. I have an affinity for John Mark. He is the late bloomer and the cowardly boy who becomes founder of the Coptic church and the lion of Venice.