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

A sestina on the Trinity (a poem)

With this poem, I had two goals — and failed at both.

The first was to write a sestina. A sestina is a 39-line poem which has six sestets and tercet. What makes it complicated is that you have to choose six words that repeat at the end of the lines of each sestet. Then you round it off with all six words in the tercet.

But there’s also a complicated order around which word is the last word of each line in each sestet. It’s like playing a 6×6 sudoku: each of your six words can only be in the first line once, and only in the second line once, etc. Plus each word has to appear once in each sestet.

There’s a handy article on that explains more detail.

When I wrote this poem, I knew it was like sudoku; I also knew that the word in the last line of one sestet, had to be in the first line in the next sestet. But I didn’t understand the word order beyond that, so I basically made up my own sudoku grid. If I’d followed the sestina form properly, it would have looked different. There’s only one sudoku grid that counts as a sestina. But hey, I’m taking this as a feature, not a bug.

My second goal was to write a poem on the Trinity. The idea of a sestina seemed to lend itself beautifully to the idea of praising the three divine persons of the Trinity, iteratively dancing around similarities and differences. But something else came out instead.

I didn’t want a poem where I constantly repeated the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit”. So when I write my big list of words to choose six from, I chose these:

  • Life
  • Name
  • Word
  • One
  • Face
  • Gift

I thought these would be an interesting way to reflect on the Trinity. And they are. But the poem I wrote ended up being more like a hymn of praise, telling the story of salvation.

What also surprised me is that when I got to the end, there were so many words that were missing: source, shelter, bread, water, holy, dove, lamb, altar, seal, Father, Jesus, Trinity, triune, perichoresis (why not?), body, majesty, throne, inheritance. This poem is 39 lines long and these words don’t appear once!

As I said, not what I was expecting to write, yet the themes of the Trinity are very much there.

Maybe next time, I’ll achieve my goals. Here it is.

A sestina on the Trinity

Beginning with your word, the Word. 
“Light.” You spoke and there was life.
Delight and joy shone from your face.
Earth, sea and sky were your good gift
Your breath proceeding out as one
To form all things by your great name.

Fire in the bush, you spoke your name
Proclaiming freedom as your gift
That we may choose and choose your life.
With cloud and smoke you hid your face,
In rock and stone you gave your word:
“The Lord your God, the LORD is one.”

You sent your Son, anointed one,
According to your promised word,
That he might glorify your name
And open up the way to life.
For sure, he is your gracious gift,
We see your fullness in his face.

Tears of blood were on his face,
Your righteous, yet afflicted one,
His life was lifted as a gift.
You heard his last and dying word
And then, to vindicate his name,
You raised him up to glorious life.

He breathed his Spirit, giving life,
The counsellor of his good name,
That we might speak your living word
And form your fellowship as one,
To shine your light on every face
And tell the mystery of your gift.

Your ever-everlasting gift!
Then we will meet you face to face
When earth and heaven sing as one
To praise and hallow your great name,
The first, the last, the only life,
Your victory holds the final word.

You share your gracious gift of life,
Proclaim your word and show your face,
That we, as one, may sing your name.

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