A Sonnet for the Annunciation

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings

The feast of the annunciation usually falls on March 25th, but this year, because that day was also GoodFriday, it has been transferred to April 4th. The Annunciation, the visit of Gabriel to the blessed virgin Mary, is that mysterious moment of awareness, assent and transformation in which eternity touches time. In my own small take on this mystery I have thought about vision, about what we allow ourselves to be aware of, and also about freedom, the way all things turn on our discernment and freedom.

As always I am indebted to Margot Krebs Neale for the accompanying images, and she has kindly offered the following note for the images that accompany this sonnet:

‘As I was making suggesting a picture for another sonnet, Malcolm said he was working on the Annunciation sonnet. A little cheeky I sent a picture of a beautifully blurred lily wondering if it might help. Malcolm liked it and could see angel wings in it, I thought we needed a face. A young woman of sixteen. One of the many 16 years old I know and love or…myself. I remembered and found this picture of me taken when I was 16 or 17. Why me? Because of the “We” of the first strophe, I read it like an “I” : We see so little, only surfaces, and yet we have a choice.

« Quel fruit lumineux portons-nous dans l’ombre de la chair? » What luminous fruit do we carry in the shade of our flesh?

« un fruit éternel enfant de la chair et de l’Esprit ». An eternal fruit, child of the flesh and the Spirit »

May we be granted the joy of giving it to the light.’

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 available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. It is also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these 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. You may also like to check out Steve Bell‘s wonderful Snippet eBook The Pilgrim Year, in which this sonnet also appears, together with some of my reflections on Fra Angelico’s great fresco of the Annunciation.

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ buton or on the title.


We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

but on this day a young girl stopped to see


Filed under imagination, literature, Theology and Arts

8 responses to “A Sonnet for the Annunciation

  1. Robert Phelps

    Dear Malcolm: Here’s my Annunciation

      A furuncle in the sugar maple,

    a tree stiffened and depressed

    by its months of chill,

    suddenly finds its face stickingout

    like a tongue

    to the newness of spring,

    not knowing nor caring aboutbefore.

    It’s tiny heart of green bursts

    with a joy it can’t explain,

    as it preens with its new life.

      You can feel spring on themorning train,

    and measure it geometrically

    by the smiles of those seated,

    their mouths exhausted

    from the stiff months of sourgrimaces,

    practicing now the posture ofthe happy.

      The in-between lightning andthunder,

    from the kneeling hopeful

    presenting his ring

    to the sweetheart’s “Yes!”;

    from the darkened morning schoolbus

    pulling away from the curb,

    to mother’s embrace

    in the afternoon;

    the world has always awaited itsjoy;

    As on that ancient day when theangel told the girl:

    “Say yes, girl, and he’ll beyour boy.” And she agreed.

    No safety net, no assurances, anda future that

    would stab her in the heart, shestill agreed.

    “I’m the Lord’s little servant.Let it be done.” 

      So, you know, the brave littlefuruncle faces its future as a maple leaf,

    And the wintered commuters thawinto smiles, and waiting

    becomes the liturgy of relief; becausethe dark and cold are dressed as memories,

    and the sunlight of spring warmsus all.

                                                                                        November12, 2015


  2. Carole Lewis

    Read this after attending sung Eucharist for The Annunciation..perfect ningbo theceay. Thank you. Now revelling in Sounding the seasons. I shall write a ties of it for the church magazine. Money so well spent! Thinking of buying a few more as gifts. Will the be on sale nex month at the London prayer day? Maybe you might sign a copy, but not to worry fr that doesn’t feel appropriate. Blessings Carole

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Carole. Yes I think they’ll have them at the prayer day and I’d be happy to sign them. Glad you are enjoying these poems. See you in May N

  3. John Blore

    Dear Malcolm,

    Many thanks for these emails. I have three of your books on iBooks, and used “Word in the Wilderness” in Lent. I found it wonderfully inspiring.

    I was booked to come to your day at Otley Hall on 27th April, but have had to cancel due to a friend’s funeral. I wondered whether there are any handouts you would be giving, and if so whether you might be able to email something to me.

    I retired as Team Rector of the Halstead Area Team, in North Essex, around Christmas 2014, and now live in Litcham, Norfolk, with my wife Jane. I would love to come to hear you at some future event, if there is anything happening within 50 miles or so.

    I don’t suppose by any chance you give spiritual direction, and have any space for a possible new one?

    Please don’t feel you have to reply, as I know your life must be very full.

    Thank you again for all your inspiration.

    I remember you in my prayers.

    John Blore

    Sent from my iPad


    • malcolmguite

      Dear John
      Thanks for this. I haven’t made the handouts for Otley yet but if you email me at malcolmguite@gmail.com I’ll send them to you when they’re available. I do spiritual direction but I’m afraid there isn’t any space for a new one. I hope you find someone soon and I’m glad you like the poems

  4. Liz Parker


    Wonderful sonnet on the annunciation! I’ve been dreadfully distracted lately and the line ‘we miss the shimmer of angels’ wings’ struck with force.

    We met at Andy Doyle’s house party – I’m married to Andy Parker who recited the Geoffrey Hill poem with you. I’ve loved Herbert since my teens and am so pleased to now have a contemporary ‘Herbert’ to read.

    God bless you. Liz Parker

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