All Hallow’s Eve; A Sonnet of reclamation

The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed

Even here in England, where the tradition is less strong, Hallowe’en seems to be creeping up on Christmas in the crass comercialism stakes! Halloween itself simply means the eve of all Hallows, and All Hallows is the Christian feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’ a day when we think particularly of those souls in bliss who, even in this life, kindled a light for us, or to speak more exactly, reflected for us and to us, the already-kindled light of Christ!,  It is followed immediately on November 2nd by All Souls Day. the day we remember all the souls who have gone before us into the light of Heaven.  It is good that we should have a season of the year for remembrance and a time when we feel that the veil between time and eternity is thin and we can sense that greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong. It is also good and right that the Church settled this feast on a time in the turning of the year when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead. But it was right that, though they kept the day, they changed the custom. The greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Christ and if we want to celebrate our loving connections we need only now make gifts to the living, as we do in offering sweets to the ‘trick or treaters’ in this season, and far more profoundly in exchanging gifts at Christmas.

Anyway given that both these seasons of hospitality and exchange have been so wrenched from their first purpose in order to sell tinsel and sweeties, I thought I might redress the balance a little and reclaim this season with a sonnet for All Souls/All Saints that remembers the light that shines in darkness, who first kindled it, and how we can all reflect it.

I am posting this sonnet now as some churches who keep the feast a little earlier, on this coming Sunday, the 28th, may wish to make use of sonnet. Do feel free to print the words or use the recording.

The image which follows this poem, and takes up one of its key lines, is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title.

All these sonnets are being published together this December by Canterbury Press in a book called Sounding the Seasons, which will be launched at St. Edward’s Church Cambridge on December 5th at 7:30pm.

All Saints

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards

Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words

Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright

With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,

The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.

Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing

He weaves them with us in the web of being

They stand beside us even as we grieve,

The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,

Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above

The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,

To triumph where all saints are known and named;

The gathered glories of His wounded love.

‘Each shard still shines’ image by Margot Krebs Neale

22 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems

22 responses to “All Hallow’s Eve; A Sonnet of reclamation

  1. Stephen

    Fr Malcom, I always enjoy your sonnets, and look forward to buying the collection – but is it not the Fall or our mortality in general that breaks our glass into shards, rather than Satan in particular?

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for your comment Stephen Yes it is certainly our fall that does it, but then our fall is also a participation in satan’fs, a bondage to his fall which Christ has overcome. So Satan in this poem stands also for our own inner participation in the evil which nevertheless Christ has defeated on the cross as well as for the fallen angel who is the father of lives. Both and rather than either or.

  2. You’re killing me, Malcolm.

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

  3. Lovely as usual, Malcolm, but this one I found especially moving.

  4. Thank you Malcolm. I am grateful that we are able to participate in Mozart’s Requiem Mass this year at St. James Cathedral here in Seattle. It’s the time of the year when I can be close to my dear family members, buried in England and Australia. Elizabeth ewnimages@gmail.com

  5. it’s beautiful Malcolm 🙂

  6. Pingback: All Hallow’s Eve; A Sonnet of reclamation | All Saints Church–Chapel Hill/Durham

  7. sarum

    All Souls Day should not be confused with Halloween, the eve or vigil of All Saints Day. All Souls Day is on 2 November.

    • malcolmguite

      yes, properly halloween is the eve of all hallows, which is all saints, the 1st of nov, followed by all souls on the second. my point, theologically, is about the whole season, which is about our communion and interrelation witn the departed. In practice all hallows and all souls run into one another…

  8. Marika

    I was in the middle of writing the children’s page for the church web site explaining about the ‘real’ meaning of Halloween when I suddenly had a confused moment.
    You said All Hallows was the feast of All Souls, followed the next day by All Saints.
    I thought the root word of ‘Hallows’ was ‘holy’; heilig in ME; and the corresponding feast on the continent that of Allerheiligen, or All Saints.
    All Souls would be Allerzielen which on the continent is celebrated the day after, so the tradition seems to be the other way round.
    Could you unconfuse me please?

  9. Marika

    Oh, I’m sorry_ I failed to read your last reply first!

  10. malcolmguite

    I realise that when I initially posted this I had transposed the sequence of All Saints-All souls day in my mind! I have corrected this in the main text of the post now, as well as in the comments! Thanks to those who pointed it out!

  11. Jo

    Beautiful Malcolm. We try to focus on the light in our family.

  12. Ryan Lunde

    So good. All the ‘crass commercialism’ of today doesn’t even compare.

  13. Pingback: Reclaiming Halloween | St Mary's News blog

  14. Good post — these things need to be reclaimed, at least to some extent, from from the Mammonolaters! Just one minor quibble — the idea that it was the Celtic feast of the dead is a piece of circular reasoning. The idea of the Celtic memorial of the dead is actually derived from All Souls Day, not the other way round — see here Who stole Halloween? | Khanya.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Steve, I’ve just read your post, fascinating to look at it that way round. Frazier, once so highly infuse trial, has certainly been discredited I lots of the other ‘golden bough’ surmises, so it’s interesting in that context too

  15. Beautiful poem. I’ll be reading it during our intercessory prayers tomorrow – even if it’s not quite the day it was intended for!?

  16. Have you heard the story of Rabbi Jacob, who meets the exiled Shekinah on the road? In the metaphorical manner of Jewish teaching, the Shekinah is portrayed as a part of God’s person, a female part that since the fall, is in exile. The separation was part of a cosmic crash, where God’s glory was splintered into myriad sparks that are now caught in matter. The role of humankind is to restore these sparks to God through holy actions. It’s probably from here that Tolkien’s allusion grows in his longer poem on creation.

    • malcolmguite

      Fascinating! I didn’t know that particular story, but the Shekinah has been a moving motif for me for some time. This story, the way you tell it also connects strongly with the ’emanations’ which are described in Vlakes prophetic poems. Thanks

  17. malcolmguite

    Sorry that should red ‘Blake’s’

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