The feast of the Visitation, on the 31st of May, celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit he cousin Elizabeth, who was also against all expectations bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and i have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..
Here is a meeting made of hidden joys
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’
They sing today for all the great unsung
Women who turned eternity to time
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.
18 responses to “Hidden Joys; A Sonnet for the Visitation”
Tears of thanks and praise…for the beauty of your gift.
God Bless You!
Lovely! Radical and comforting thoughts together.
Thanks Jeanette see you at Westminster in Novemver!
Thank you for this moving poem and the photographs. Elizabeth firstname.lastname@example.org
A friend sent me this and I got goosebumps as I read. It is priceless
and so needed in our day and age. Powerful and so real and natural!
Bless you heaps!
May 30, 2013
Your prayerful gift brings tears of joy to my heart. Thank you Malcolm for sharing your beautiful thoughts.
Bless you for this inspiring sonnet that conveys so much of the scriptural story of the Visitation and the universal story of so many women and powerless people in all times.
As always, a pleasure, and with something of the spirit of the Magnificat itself running joyously through it.
Thanks. And we’ll observed the Magnificat is definitely there!
Thank you, Malcolm, so much for a truly stimulating ECAT day last weekend. David and I learned so much in such a short space of time! I am still ‘processing’ some of those concepts and connections! I am really enjoying your visionary work in ‘Sounding the Seasons’: I love form(s) in poetry, and find it wonderfully reassuring that the Sonnet continues to have wide appeal.
Thanks Caroline. Glad you enjoyed it and are liking the sonnets!
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Malcolm, thank you for this particularly beautiful poem.
We began our service last week with it and it touched many deeply.
I am wondering, however, whether in the second line you really meant ‘lightenings’ (as in burdens reduced) or ‘lightnings’ (electrical storm activity). I could make sense of this poem as ‘lightenings’, though it requires a rather dense paradox that works better for Elizabeth (who shed the burden of barrenness as she acquired the ‘load’ of John) than Mary (who isn’t said to be burdened by anything beforehand).
But then I saw your John the Baptist ‘Baptism’ sonnet where you also use ‘lightening’ – yet the immediately attendant imagery (thunder) demands you must mean ‘lightning’. So it occurs to me that all my attempts to understand it in terms of ‘lightenings’ was misguided and you may just mean ‘lightning’ after all! Can you clarify?
Thank you again for your wonderful ministry with these sonnets. I have used at least half a dozen in our worship over the past year.
Thanks for these close readings Matt. I was intending lightenings in three senses: first the powerful bolt of energy coming down from heaven to earth which I could have conveyed in the singular but I chose the plural both because I think that Jesus and John, still in the womb were both as it were a live and crackling with a kind if condensed divine energy ready to be dramatically released but also because the plural lightenings gave access to the other meanings; the paradox that bearing the weight if John in the womb is a lightening for Elizabeth if the burden of being called Barren and Mary is suddenly lifted and lightened into the ecstatic utterance of the Magnificat which leads to my third sense if lightening – a moment of brightness revelation or sudden illumination which is what the visitation is. Finally by using the plural I was gently alluding to Seamus Heaney’s poetic sequence ‘lightenings’ in which he also explores some of these senses of the word
Wow, I didn’t even get half of what you meant! Sometimes I worry that I’m actually over-reading things intended to be simple, but I won’t have that concern meditating on your poems in future!
Thanks for taking the time to respond.