Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael at Mont St. Michell -photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Continuing my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year which will be published this December by Canterbury Press, we come to the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which 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 represents, 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. And here is a bright and playful image of him by the Cambridge Artist Rebecca Merry, who has done a number of icons and other images of  the Archangels. You can see more of her art here, and also in the Byard Art Gallery.

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

And here is a response to the poem from photographer Margot Krebs Neale, weaving the words at the heart of the poem into the heart-shaped image. More of Margot’s work can be seen here.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or the title. Many of you have commented on how good it is to be able to hear the poems, and I’m glad thats working. I also love hearing poets read their own work and have been revelling in an amazing resource from the British Library, a triple cd of British Poets reading their own work and from there I’ve stumbled onto the fabulous Shakespeare Online resource. Sadly this is not the bard himself on audioboo, but, next best thing, its a chance to hear great pasages, including several sonnets as they would have been pronounced in Shakespeare’s day! After this digression amidst the greats here’s my effort:


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.


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

12 responses to “Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel

  1. I am so looking forward to this publication, Malcolm

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Elizabeth. I’m going through the page proofs right now! We’re having an English launch in December but I’m hoping to come and do some readings in America in the new year!

  2. Laurie Metcalf

    what can I say, Malcolm! What composed you to conceive this and where?

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Laurie I’ve always had a strong draw towards St. Michael and also a deep live of this autumnal season and these combined in the opening of the poem. I think the angels do their work within as well as without, and the human heart is the front line, as in all poetry it’s a case of finding the point of balance between the personal and the universal M

  3. The angels’ wings beat
    At half the frequency in this bass octave
    Of Michaelmas’ heights. The colour temperature of the leaves
    Rises. If, like Lucifer or Icarus,
    You flew towards the Indian summer sun
    And lie now cast in bronze
    Cold and unmoving at St Michael’s feet
    On the damp earth, you’ll find the sap
    Begins to rise at midwinter, long before
    The slow crescendo of the spring.
    Crisp leaf, tight-folded bud. Trees never fly
    But dominate the skyline with their branches.

    [written last year when the weather at the end of September was rather different! I seem to remember composing it lying under a tree in the park.]

  4. Lovely. I’m glad I found this today, and grateful that you shared it. I spent an hour this morning watching dead leaves drift down from the trees, wondering if I have the courage and grace to let go and simply fall…. (“the hidden grace in chance and change”) I’ve shared your post here on today’s Facebook page for a book I edited: Earth Afire with God: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Earth-Afire-with-God-Celtic-Prayers-for-Ordinary-Life/152176391591048

  5. Pingback: Michaelmas | Earth Afire With God

  6. Pingback: Michaelmas | The Middle Room

  7. Some people have heard your poem here in Canada, as I performed it in Eurythmy, and art of dance wearing yellow and red. We had a festival for the Archangel as we do every year. Thank you again!!

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