Sonnet XLI – Gifts of the Magi

A grander throne than Solomon’s of old,
Though wrought of rough-hewn wood and winter hay,
Received the royal deference of gold
From one who watched a star, by night and day.

A nobler incense, burning without end,
Nor gathered from the bleeding of a tree,
Received the homage, from an eastern friend,
Of earthly resin’s scent, on bended knee.

And He whose very body was his balm
When He was laid within the frigid tomb,
Received the myrrh foretelling death’s dead calm
Before life’s dawning at the end of doom.

And wise men ever since their best gifts bring
To render justice to so just a King.

In Epiphania Domini, Anno MMXVI

From Sonnets for Christ the King


Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet, First Place winner of the Scottish International Poetry Competition (Long Poem Section). His poetry has appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), US News and World Report, Google News, and many other outlets. He writes primarily for the Society of Classical Poets (New York).

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16 Responses

  1. Bruce E. Wren

    Just one of the gems from MacKenzie’s superb sonnet sequence “Sonnets for Christ the King”. There is also a very fine audio version available through Audible. Very fitting poem for this January 6th (which is also, by the way, the birthday of St. Joan of Arc).

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Speaking of St. Joan of Arc, readers would be delighted to know that Bruce Edward Wren—one of the original Ars Poetica Nova poets whose works were never tainted by modernism— produced two exquisite poems on The Maid of Orléans during two separate visits to Le Crotoy, where Sainte Jeanne had been imprisoned before she was taken to Rouen for her famous trial. The second of these two masterpieces contains an unforgettable, “you are there,” evocation of La Baie de Somme.

      I cannot more ardently recommend Bruce Edward Wren’s beautiful, 141-page collection entitled, “Fending Off the Dragon Fire,” where these poems appear. The book is a veritable “festival of forms,” but also, in my mind, one of the finest examples of Ars Poetica Nova lyricism yet produced, very fresh and engaging, absolutely lovely poetry. Here is the link:

      • Bruce E. Wren

        Thank you, Joseph, for your generous support and praise. May you have a blessed 2018!

  2. Sam Gilliland

    Gosh, Joseph, You maintain the same high standard that saw us meet in Irvine as well as bringing delight to so many others with your poetry. You always seem to transfer the subject to something greater and thus capture the reader. Frankly, I know nothing about Epiphany but revel in your obvious delight in perpetuating feelings of human nature. Aye & aye, Sam.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Thank you, Sam Gilliland. In your part of the world, Epiphany often goes by the name of Twelfth Night. It is, after all, the twelfth of the forty days of the Christmas cycle. Epiphany is therefore a cycle within a cycle as a whole liturgical octave is attached to it.

      On this night we commemorate the great Theophany (ἡ θεοφάνεια), or “showing forth of God” through the appearance not only of the Holy Infant, but also the three Magi.

      Each year on this night, we take a piece of specially blessed chalk and write the initials of the three Wise Men on the lintel of our doors along with the number of the current year thus: 20 C+M+B 18.

      20 is for the millennium, 18 for the year of Our Lord. C is for Caspar, M for Melchior, and B for Balthasar. However, the initials also form the acrostic “Christus mansionem benedicat.” Christ blesses this house.”

      During this ceremony, Our Blessed Lady’s Magnificat is read. After all the prayers are recited, the head of the home goes throughout the house with Epiphany water (holy water which is specially blessed on this day) and blesses every room of the house. This is also a minor exorcism. When performed by a priest, incense is used (although it can also be used by lay folk as well).

      The meditation focuses on the Gifts of the Magi: gold for the Great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial. These constitute the symbolic “scaffolding,” if your will, of Sonnet 41 from the Sonnets for Christ the King.

  3. David Watt

    Mr. MacKenzie, your formula always manages to create sonnets which are pleasing to both mind and ear.

      • David Watt

        The formula, though unknown, still allows blending to correct proportions.

  4. Crise de Abu Wel

    “And wise men ever since their best gifts bring
    To render justice to so just a King.”

    At the Portal of Immortality
    from Matthew 2: 1-14.
    by Crise de Abu Wel

    Now Jesus was born in the Bethlehem
    of Judea in the time of Herod
    the King. And, lo, behold, there came some men
    from the East, across the hard and arid
    land to the city of Jerusalem,
    saying, “Where is the King of the Jews laid?

    We have seen his star in the Eastern sky.”
    This so troubled King Herod that he called
    upon all of the chief priests and the scribes;
    and he inquired where the Christ was installed.
    They told him what the prophet had descried,
    and when he heard all about it, it galled.

    When the magi reached the humble manger,
    they gave the babe gold, frankincense, and myrrh
    to crown him, anoint him, and, oh, stranger
    by far, to preserve him, to him inter;
    so when the magi left, sensing danger,
    Joseph fled to Egypt to escape death.

  5. Fr. Richard Libby

    This is a wonderful tribute to the wonderful feast of the Epiphany! Congratulations, Mr. MacKenzie!

  6. David Hollywood

    As always, marvelous poetry. Thank you for such seasonally appreciative imagery.

  7. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Thank you, David. Yes, the Sonnets for Christ the King very roughly follow the liturgical year, so there are Christmas poems, Easter poems, Advent poems, and so forth.

    In his review of my work, Dr. Salemi calls the Sonnets for Christ the King “a liturgically mediated conversation with God.” I believe this is the most accurate description.

  8. James Sale

    Fascinating and beautiful. In this particular case, as the poet struggles to express the inexpressible – and succeeds – we get that repetitive, tautology of language whereby saying something once simply isn’t emphatic enough to convey the sense: “death’s dead calm” and ” justice to so just” – love it.


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