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.
Saint Patrick by Malcolm Guite
My Irish mother (the biological one who I met as an adult) quoted Yeats to me at our first encounter. She said “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” The smile in her eyes confirmed what I had always known – though we just met, we had known each other a lifetime. There are many things we can’t understand until we are prepared to know.
St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful celebration. In his book The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite tells us his story:
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 captured there, at the age of 16, 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. 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’. It urged 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 touches on the story that wherever Patrick planted his staff to pray, it blossomed.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day my friend.
I hope your Irish eyes are smiling too.
Being confident of this,
that he who began
a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.
D I G D E E P E R
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.