A Sonnet for Epiphany

these three arrive and bring us with them

The Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the three wise men at the manger in Bethlehem has a special mystery and joy to it. Until now the story of the coming Messiah has been confined to Israel, the covenant people, but here suddenly, mysteriously, are three Gentiles who have intuited that his birth is good new for them too. Here is an Epiphany, a revelation, that the birth of Christ is not  one small step for a local religion but a great leap  for all mankind. I love the way that traditionally the three wise men (or kings) are shown as representing the different races and cultures and languages of the world. I love the combination in their character of diligence and joy. They ‘seek diligently’, but they ‘rejoice with exceeding great joy’! I love the way they loved and followed a star, but didn’t stop at the star, but rather let the star lead them to something beyond itself. Surely that is a pattern for all wise contemplation of nature whether in art or science.

One can return constantly to the mystery of the Epiphany and always find more but here is a little sonnet which particularly focuses on the way their arrival on the scene suddenly includes us as Gentiles into what has been, up to this point an exclusively Jewish story. The last line of this poem is a little nod in the direction of Tennyson’s great poem Ulysses

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or by clicking on the title of the poem which will take you to the audioboo page.


It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A  pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.


Now the Feast of the Epiphany is both the end of Christmas and the beginning of the Church’s Epiphany Season which she keeps until the Feast of the Presentation (or Candlemas), on February 2nd. On the Sundays of this Epiphany season it is traditional to move from the this first great ‘epiphany’ or manifestation of glory to the Gentiles, to contemplate the other ‘epiphanies’ that mark the beginning of Christ’s Ministry; the Heaven’s opening at his baptism, the Calling of his disciples, especially the ‘epiphany moment’ granted to Nathanael, and promised to all of us, and then finally the first of his miracles, his ‘signs whereby he manifested his glory’; the Miracle at Cana in Galilee.

So the Sonnet I have given above is the first in a sequence of  Epiphany Sonnets, drawn from my book Sounding the Seasons, which is available from Amazon etc or by order from your local bookshop, should you be lucky enough to have one.  I shall post the others in time for the various Sundays of Epiphany. The image below is courtesy of Margot Krebs Neal


Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems

10 responses to “A Sonnet for Epiphany

  1. Hi Malcolm. I love this line very much: I love the way they loved and followed a star, but didn’t stop at the star, but rather let the star lead them to something beyond itself. I will ponder that for awhile!

  2. matthia langone

    Hi Malcoom Guite,

    Thank you for sharing this on line. I have your book but sometimes i forget all that is in it.

    What i find most profound today is the opening of the poem… and the ps…. it is the first time i ever heard the season explained as such though i remember that in Europe Christmas Season was observed till Candlemas or 2 Feb. how much sense and expectancy you have put back in the days and weeks.

    Please include me in your good prayers that my life will read like a Sounding of Seasons! What a great idea this book has been and is ….it has that quality of freedom …open, opening and always something new to discover thank you!


    Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2014 09:53:51 +0000 To: mousehouse2@hotmail.com

  3. “But when these three arrive they bring us with them…”
    Such a lovely metaphor! It makes me shiver and, yes, fills me with joy.
    Beautiful poem. Thank you.

  4. Reblogged this on innerwoven and commented:
    I was gonna write something uniquely Epiphany for my blog. But, alas, Malcolm Guite is better at it. Let’s hear what he has to say instead.

  5. Charles Twombly

    Insight as illuminating as a moving star in the East. A fourth wise man lives in Cambridge.

  6. Pingback: ABC Day 37: The end is a new beginning – returning by another way | Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks

  7. Love the unique way of looking at their journey being the beginning of ours – that we are walking “A steady step that finds an inner rhythm” Lovely and visceral – Thank you. Thank you.

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