A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s Cross


I am reposting this Ash Wednesday Sonnet from  Sounding the Seasons, with a new sense of urgency. It was eleven years ago that I wrote the lines:

The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.

Since then the destruction has increased, and more recently I wrote Our Burning World, set as an Anthem by Rhiannon Randle.

So here again is the sonnet and the little introduction I wrote for it a decade ago:

As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares. So some of those themes are visited in this sonnet, which is also found in my new book The Word in the Wilderness which contains these and other poems set out so that you can reflect on a poem a day throughout Lent. If you’d like to pursue the Lenten journey further the book is available on Amazon both here and in the USA and is also available on Kindle. 

As before I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the remarkable commentary on these poems which she is making through her photographs. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the Play Button

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

And here, as a bonus track is a recording the singer-songwriter Bob Bennet sent me of a sung version of this poem which he composed minutes after hearing the poem for the first time. This is a rough ‘field recording’ taken whilst the song was still forming but he’s allowed me to share it!

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Filed under imagination

8 responses to “A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday

  1. johnbnightingale

    Dear Malcolm, Your link to Bob Bennett did not seem to produce his song. Pity! Yours is a good poem. Best wishes, John

  2. “But Hope could rise from ashes even now
    Beginning with this sign upon your brow.”- Malcolm Guite

    Malcolm, I had never considered that THROUGH the ashes I would rise. Stories always talk about rising up FROM the ashes. Now I picture a Tolkien-esque heroine rising up through the ashes, against all odds. The evidence? The shape of the cross on her forehead. Thank you for this.

  3. Okay, I’ve been “name-checked” on occasion … but this is my first time being “song-demo-checked”! What made this first, as-it-happened demo so much fun is that the song was started (and minor changes approved) with Malcolm and collaborator (and mutual friend) Steve Bell in the room! Of course not meant for “the public” which makes sharing that much more satisfying. Malcolm’s work handily enables “lyrics thieves” like me! Thanks, dear friend. See you soon on the Digital Porch!

  4. riverjordan@gmail.com River Jordan

    Instagram – RiverJordanInk Facebook – RiverJordanInk Twitter- RiverJordanInk Clearstory Radio

  5. Geri Gray

    Lovely poem, thanks Malcolm.

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