St. Patrick: A Sonnet

PilgrimYear_SaintPatrickMeme

Here is my sonnet for Saint Patrick’s day. It is in my anthology Word in the Wilderness and is also collected in Parable and Paradox but here it is for the day itself. This particular poem was prompted by my good friend Steve Bell who was writing a fascinating book on the seasons called The Pilgrim Year and who wanted me to write something for St. Patrick’s day. I can strongly commend Steve’s ebook!

While Patrick is of course primarily associated with Ireland where he flourished as a missionary in the second half of the fifth century, he was not Irish to begin with. He seems to have been a shepherd on the mainland of Great Britain and was in fact captured there, at the age of sixteen, by raiding pirates and taken across the sea to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. He was six years in captivity before he finally made his escape and returned to Britain. And this is where the story takes a truly extraordinary turn. While he was enslaved in Ireland, working as a shepherd for his masters, Patrick became a Christian and when, having made good his escape, he returned home he had a vision in which a man gave him a letter headed ‘The Voice of Ireland’, a letter urging him to go back to the very place from which he had escaped and bring the Gospel to his former captors! That Patrick obeyed such a vision seems to me a greater miracle than any of the others subsequently attributed to him, and it is on this return that my sonnet turns. That capacity to return, face and forgive former oppressors or enemies seems a particularly vital gift for Ireland’s patron to bestow. As well as alluding briefly to ‘St. Patrick’s Breastplate’, my sonnet also touches on the story that wherever Patrick planted his staff to pray, it blossomed.

As always you can hear the sonnets by clicking o the title or the play button

Patrick

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,

Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!

Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,

With open love to your old enemies,

Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,

Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.

You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins

Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

 

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,

Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,

Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,

And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:

A gospel seed that flowers in belief,

A greening glory, coming into leaf.

4 Comments

Filed under imagination

4 responses to “St. Patrick: A Sonnet

  1. The story of the blossoming staff was also told about St Aldhelm, and Bishopstrow (originally Bishop’s treow, Anglo-Saxon for tree) was named after the story that St Aldhelm planted his staff there and it blossomed. This is also the story of the Glastonbury Thorn, that it was Joseph of Arimathea’s staff that blossomed.

    • pokeyone

      Thank you for a beautifully written comment, Yewtree. I appreciate the historical notes; the etymology was a bonus!

  2. pokeyone

    Thank you, Malcom, for this beautiful Saint Patrick’s Day blessing. As the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, I have always celebrated this feast day. The Breastplate is among my favorite prayers and hymns; your second stanza will become another. Your work is a blessing.

  3. MJH

    Reblogged this on the pocket scroll and commented:
    A powerful poem for St Patrick from Malcolm Guite. Enjoy while you wear green and drink your Guinness today!

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