This was suggested by a friend. Not a sonnet, and is not a sonnet. It is, instead, something you don’t see much now. A ballad: these were common during the time of empire.
Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in through the window.
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.
‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’
Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’
Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girl’s been up to no good.’
‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.
Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.
It was the election winter.
They went to vote in town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.
The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ Club.
They talked about an explosion
That made a hole in the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.
A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.
‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.
After them came the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.
When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’
He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.
Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the God in himself
Quietly standing there.
He finished up in the papers,
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.
There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.
They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.
They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.
Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? he cried.
‘Not today’ they said.
Charles Causley, 1968