The 25th of April is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, so I am posting again my sonnet on St. Mark’s Gospel, one of a set of four sonnets on each of the four evangelists. As I re-read it during this lockdown, as we too make the shift ‘from grand to intimate’, I am struck afresh by the transition in Mark from Christ’s action to his passion, from doing to suffering, from being in control to experiencing with us and for us what it is to depend, patiently, on the actions of others.
For each of these sonnets I have meditated on the traditional association of each of the evangelists with one of the ‘four living creatures’ round the throne, and how that helps us to focus on the particular gifts and emphasis of that Gospel writer. For a good account of this tradition click here. Mark is the lion. There is a power, a dynamic a swiftness of pace in Mark’s Gospel, his favourite word is ‘immediately’! and that suits the lion. His Gospel starts in the wilderness and that suits it too.
But the great paradox in Mark is that the Gospel writer who shows us Christ at his most decisive, powerful, startling and leonine is also the one who shows us how our conquering lion, our true Aslan, deliberately entered into suffering and passion, the great ‘doer’ letting things be done unto him. In this sonnet, I am especially indebted to WH Vanstone’s brilliant reading of this aspect of Mark in his wonderful book The Stature of Waiting.
For all four ‘Gospel’ sonnets I have also drawn on the visual imagery of the Lindesfarne Gospels, as in the one illustrated above.
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. The book is now 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.
As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.
A wingèd lion, swift, immediate
Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift
From first to last, from grand to intimate,
From strength to weakness, and from debt to gift,
From a wide desert’s haunted emptiness
To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,
From a voice crying in the wilderness
To angels in an empty sepulcher.
And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;
From swift action as a strong Messiah
Casting the very demons back to hell
To slow pain, and death as a pariah.
We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade
And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.
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5 responses to “A Sonnet for St. Mark’s Day”
You have such a phenomenal gift for appropriate rhyme and faultless scansion. Whow! Jackie G
Thanks. Not many people comment on the crafting of the poems but it’s always gratifying to the poet when people do. Thank you for noticing
Jackie Gooding, thank you for being able to express what Malcolm does in the proper terms. I am a poet, I notice so many things about a good poem, I know that Malcolm’s poems are prayers, that they give sustenance in a weary land, and that God continues to use his sonnets to feed my soul. I have gone to school to know the terms you use, I could write a poem about them, but oft times, the right terms elude me. So thankful for someone like you who can do what you just did. God Bless you both!
Thank you, Malcolm, for the faithful posting. I have been a follower of your postings for at least 4 years! And I am sure I have noted – but not read – your April 25 “A Sonnet for St. Mark’s Day”.
Yesterday was a different day. For April 25 is my birthdate and yesterday we celebrated my 75th! And I paused to read and to let it’s imagery settle and sink – the way your sonnets have and do.
I have been following the Celtic Daily Prayer Guides – Further Up and Away – for several years as well and have appreciated the presence of the Saints and their connection to the Church calendar. In that setting, there were no saints listed for the last few weeks of April. And I carried on…
Yesterday became a fitting change. Thank you, Malcolm.
My wife, Ruth, and I attended a Steve Bell with Malcolm Guite evening in St. James Anglican Church, Dundas, Ontario, Canada a few years ago. We stayed to spend a few moments of conversation with you, as you autographed a second copy of Sounding The Seasons.
My wife and I are Anabaptists worshipping in a local Mennonite congregation. I have been asked to speak at our weekly Worship Service on the Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10. Since the Gospel reading is from John 14, I plan to read the Sonnet you wrote for our present time. It was posted on April 21: “Let not your hearts be troubled: A Sonnet revisited.”
I look forward to doing so.
Dear Clarence thanks for this I’m so glad you have been enjoying my poetry. I used to live in Dundas so it’s a pleasure to know my poetry is being read there