Triquetra (symbol of the Trinity) in pastel colours against a dark background. Text: A palindrome poem on the Trinity. Faith in Grey Places.

A palindrome poem on the Trinity (a poem) (part inspired by Ephesians 1:7-10)

Also called “reverse” poems, palindrome poems are ones where the lines are read forwards and then again backwards.

And this poem on the Trinity is absolutely one of my favourites.

Skip to the poem

So, again, I didn’t really know about this type of poem until I saw it listed on the Jericho Writers website. The example they gave was Doppelgänger by James A Lindon; it’s a quite weird and disturbing poem, but very clever. I was struck by how the meaning and message of the poem changes in the second half. At the start, the narrator is aware of another man lurking in the periphery of his vision, but by the end, this man is in plain view and the narrator is on the periphery.

The effect is achieved through grammatical tricks like the use of participles. As I’ve been learning in my Greek studies, participles can be verbs and nouns and adjectives. They achieve this partly because they don’t have a person.

So take, for example: “I saw you, sitting at the table.” “Sitting” is the participle; it could apply to the subject (“I”) or the object (“you”). But because of word order, we interpret this to mean, “I saw you, [while you were] sitting at the table.” But if we say, “Sitting at the table, I saw you.” The meaning is different. This time, it means, “[While I was] sitting at the table, I saw you.”

This reversing of meaning is, I’ve learned, quite common in palindrome poems. “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed is a great example (and, I think, one I’d read years ago). When you read it forwards, it paints a bleak and cynical view of the future, but then at its midpoint it says, “And all of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.” Then you read it backwards and the picture is one of hope. It’s included in a collection of 9 reverse poems curated on the Hey Naytale blog.

Now, when I wanted to write a palindrome poem, I didn’t want to do that; I wanted the whole poem to be one of praise. But I definitely wanted the meaning to change when you read it forwards compared to backwards.

For my first Ancient Greek assignment, I’ve had to write a technical translation paper on a few verses from a passage that we covered in class. I chose Ephesians 1:7–10. These verses confused me so much, I figured I would look at them all close up.

For the record, these verses are all one sentence in the Greek text. And if you read the SBL New Testament (as opposed to the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece) then they’re a mere portion of a sentence that runs from verse 3 to verse 12.

And there is so much theology compressed into these verses. Some scholars think Paul was riffing on a pre-existing hymn (like in Philippians 2).

For me, I knew that “in Christ” was a key theme (not just in Ephesians 1, but Paul’s writing as a whole — he uses it in many different ways). So I made that the mid-point line for this poem. However, the rest of the poem was hard to write. I started writing outwards from the centre but the furthest I got was three lines.

Then I read this article on the Masterclass website about how to write a palindrome poem. And one thing it said was this: Perfect your first line. This sets the theme and tone for the whole poem.

When I read that I knew exactly what my opening line would be.

And once I had that, the poem wrote itself.


A palindrome poem on the Trinity

This is the Father’s will
Revealed to us in Christ:
Mysteries of time
Are coming to fulfilment —
And all the blessings of heaven
Are promised to us in Christ:
Redemption and adoption for honour and glory.
What can we say? We have
The Holy Spirit,
The seal of our inheritance,
And we give praise as we bear
Witness to all. We know
God himself is
Always and forever, and
We have hope
In Christ.
In Christ
We have hope
Always and forever. And
God himself is
Witness to all we know.
And we give praise as we bear
The seal of our inheritance,
The Holy Spirit.
What can we say? We have
Redemption and adoption. For honour and glory
Are promised to us in Christ.
And all the blessings of heaven
Are coming to fulfilment —
Mysteries of time
Revealed to us in Christ.
This is the Father’s will. 

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