A pair of sonnets for St. John the Baptist.

So keep his fires burning through the night
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.

We pause for a moment in our poetic journey through the psalms, to mark an important moment in our other journey through the sacred seasons of the year. For now we have come to midsummer and the traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calender. Luke tells us  that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!

The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.

I have written two sonnets,  one for St. John’s Eve reflecting on the lighting of the fires and another for St. John’s day in which , in honour of the Baptist, I reflect on the mystery and grace of baptism itself.

I am very grateful to the artist Rebecca Merry  for her beautiful interpretation of this feast and these poems.

Both these sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA  It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other 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 poems by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.

St. John the Baptist: 1 St. John’s Eve

Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill

Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:

‘He must increase and I diminish still,

Until his sun illuminates my night.’

So John the Baptist pioneers our path,

Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,

Unlatches the last doorway into faith,

And makes one inner space an everywhere.

Least of the new and greatest of the old,

Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,

He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold

The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”

So keep his fires burning through this night,

Beacons and gateways for the child of light.


St. John the Baptist: 2 Baptism

Love’s hidden thread has drawn us to the font,

A wide womb floating on the breath of God,

Feathered with seraph wings, lit with the swift

Lightening of praise, with thunder over-spread,

And under-girded with an unheard song,

Calling through water, fire, darkness, pain,

Calling us to the life for which we long,

Yearning to bring us to our birth again.

Again the breath of God is on the waters

In whose reflecting face our candles shine,

Again he draws from death the sons and daughters

For whom he bid the elements combine.

As living stones around a font today,

Rejoice with those who roll the stone away.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “A pair of sonnets for St. John the Baptist.

  1. St. John the Baptist was the patron saint of my high school so this one really stands out for me~

  2. kmvenour

    Beautiful. Luke 12:35 ✨

  3. BARBARA L PARRY

    Can you expand on the Orpheus analogy: bringing people out of death to life?

    • malcolmguite

      Yes. It’s also an allusion to one of Rilke’s sonnets to Orpheus in which he suggests that it is the act of praise and worship that brings you back out of hell and up into life

  4. Reid Seibert

    Hi Malcolm. Your sonnets inspired me to write this poem today:

    A Midsummer’s Night Awakening

    There’s a midsummer bonfire on a hill across the bay
    Shining in the darkness, and it’s not too far away
    Awaken your sleeping beauty, and slip away with me
    The sea is calm tonight; there’s just a gentle breeze

    Our little boat is waiting, upon the sandy shore
    There are islands in the moonlight, ancient lands to explore
    Our tender hearts are leaping, as we hoist a single sail
    Beneath a sea of stars, just beyond the milky veil

    Soon we hear alluring sirens, singing in the night
    Of tales of brave Ulysses not giving up the fight
    But nothing is for certain, as we continue on our way
    We must ignore these temptations and what some folks might say

    As dark clouds form to shroud a night, that was at first so clear
    A cold mist rolls in from icy seas, that turns our hope to fear
    But we hold our course for the light we’d seen upon the hill
    Though stormy seas and tempests tossed test our fragile will

    Wise men say eventually —- all things must come to pass
    Of course that’s true, more or less, but there are some things that last
    If we keep the faith and hold our course, again we’ll see the fire
    And if we listen close enough, we will hear the sacred lyre

    There’s a midsummer bonfire on a hill not far from here
    It’s hidden in the darkness, but we can face the fear
    Awaken your sleeping beauty, and sail away with me
    Our faith and love and courage soon will set us free

    Reid Seibert © 2021-06-21

    • malcolmguite

      Excellent. Love the riff on ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’

      • Reid Seibert

        Figured you’d recognize that! We are both rockers at heart! If only we could play guitar like Eric! Actually my bass playing back in the day was not too far from Jack Bruce! Thanks for connecting!

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