O Sapientia an Advent Antiphon

Image by Linda richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 17th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is my own sonnet O Sapientia, the first in a sequence of seven sonnets on the seven ‘great O’ antiphons which I shall be reading to you each day between now and the 23rd of December. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson for her book of responses to Waiting on the Word.

Linda writes:

If you have never heard Malcolm talking about the O antiphons you are missing a treat. You can hear a recording of him speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8ey2q28ZY&t=74s.

My response to the sonnet, ‘O Sapientia’, is a great ‘O’ of my own. The back ground of the painting is a photo transfer of a sheet of plainsong that the monks will sing every year at this time in Advent. I gave that a wash of gesso, and using a Chinese brush made a very energetic sweep in black ink and added some red too. Around the outside and inside I wrote out the words in Latin and in English, which are quite beautiful.

O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things. Come and teach us the way of Prudence (Wisdom). The words of this antiphon have a powerfully uplifting effect on me.

You can find you can find a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us! This is the first of them

Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

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Filed under imagination

6 responses to “O Sapientia an Advent Antiphon

  1. Thank you Malcolm x I will say Happy Christmas to you and your family and a prosperous New Year with many blessings x

  2. cynthia ford

    That last line is like a Christian koan, epiphanic, and “goes through me like a spear,” as A.E. Houseman said of poetry, quoting Keats’ last letters.

  3. Oh, Malcolm, your talk was so colorful! Delighted for it, I’d like to share with you a quote in your own words, very prophetic, indeed,

    “Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

    Come to me now, disguised as everything.”

    Has it come?

  4. sandy hay

    Thank you so much for the link to St Paul’s. What a wonderful hour on w cold Sunday afternoon.

  5. David C Brown

    Are you aware of the seven sonnets on the antiphons by J D C Pellow? His O Sapientia is:

    O Sapientia, heavenly wisdom, thou
    Who mightily and sweetly ordered all
    That moves and lives and has being, come now
    To men who scarcely know on whom to call,
    Who know so much about so many things:
    The number of the stars and of the sands,
    The private lives of dead Egyptian kings,
    The rate at which the universe expands;
    Who walk on the sea’s bottom ooze and ride
    Swifter than wind above the thunder-cloud,
    Who con domesticate lightning and tide,
    Who have multiplied their powers and are proud,
    But are not wise: O Wisdom from on high,
    Come now and give us prudence, lest we die.

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