From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet

Composer JAC Redford

Composer JAC Redford

In my last post I shared with you a sonnet called O Sapientia, the first of my seven sonnets for the O Advent Antiphons, the other six of which I will be posting as we move through Advent. And in an earlier post still I told you about what a moving experience it was when Steve Bell took some of my sonnets and set them or parts of them, into the songs he sings. Now I want to tell you about another musical adventure that befell that first sonnet O Sapientia. Once again, as with Steve, this adventure came about thanks to the amazing mix of artists musicians and poets that thrives around the CS Lewis Foundation’sOxbridge’ Conferences. It happened that JAC Redford, the distinguished Californian composer and orchestrater (He has just done all the orchestration for Skyfall!) was at one of these conferences and heard my O Sapientia. He took it home and the next thing I knew was that the next ‘Oxbridge’ was going to feature the world premiers of a JAC Redford setting of O Sapientia for full choir!

Attending that concert was an extraordinary experience. As a poet I can only write and read one line at a time, in a single voice. But as I write I can sense myriad possibilities, many voices, which I can only suggest by summoning the wider penumbra of connotations and the multivalent possibilities and latent energies in words themselves. I was particularly conscious of this linear constraint as I was writing O Sapientia, which moves from the opening single voiced word ‘I’ and ends with the multitudinous word ‘everything’.

Well when I heard JAC’s piece it came as a gift and a revelation! At last I was hearing aloud something of the rich layering of many voices and possibilities I could hear in my head. It was amazing and I wished there had been a recording of it. Well I have good news. JAC has arranged for Ben Parry to record it with the Peters Edition Chorale, so that we can play it at the  launch of Sounding the Seasons at St. Edward’s on Wednesday 5th December. What is more, he’s given me permission to post the recording up here so you can have a chance to hear it even if you cant make the launch. Here it is.

Just as with my experiences with Steve Bell, though in a completely different genre, I feel that the little seed I have sown has blossomed in surprising and beautiful ways.

(Another surprising adventure arising from this sonnet was that I got to hang out with JAC in Abbey Road Studios whilst the LSO recorded the music for Skyfall!)

Here are the words of the sonnet again if you’d like to see them whilst you listen:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.


O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.


Filed under imagination, Music, Poems, Songs

15 responses to “From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet

  1. Cassandra

    How lovely! It brings to mind the worship before the throne- the one voice becoming many juxtaposed by the many voices becoming one. Blessings friend! May God continue to use your work as His own to bless and lead many to His grace and redemption

  2. poebiz

    Lovely sonnet. Beautiful pay-off line.


  3. Loved the sonnet. Waiting for Amazon (US) to let me know they have STS in stock. I’d love to bless my poet daughter with it for Christmas.

    Is there a traditional Anglican greeting for Advent that would parallel “Merry Christmas”? It would be nice to promote Advent with an appropriate greeting but I haven’t heard one. Thanks!

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. I’ve heard people say ‘have a good Advent’ but no catchy greeting beyond that. Glad you liked the poem

  4. Pingback: The sound of Sounding the Seasons; Launch special | Malcolm Guite

  5. many congrats on the choral setting of your sonnet. will it be available on cd? it is very lovely — a delight to the mind and the ears

  6. Pingback: Featured Artist: J. A. C. Redford

  7. Pingback: Inconsoleable Longing; Advent in Music and Poetry | Malcolm Guite

  8. Sheila Longman

    This is the first of your poems that I ever read. It is so powerful and moving for me, so many resonances with recent spiritual reading. Thank you so much for letting us hear it set to music.

  9. Pingback: Advent in Music, Poetry, and Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year | Malcolm Guite

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