December – Reflecting on the incarnation

Ruth Hobson is a poet whose work is inspired both by her faith and by concern for our broken and fractured world. This poem, from her new collection Starwise, brings together many of the images associated with Christmas traditions. But it also delves a little deeper, becoming at the same time mysterious and relevant to our contemporary lives. The boat of legend is compared to the vessel that brought the Magi to Bethlehem, to the solemnity of church hierarchies and symbols, and then to the empty tomb. So the death and resurrection of the Christmas babe are already hinted at.

Then we are shown those for whom He came, those He loves the most: the homeless, the outcast, the suffering and the refugee. And we are reminded of our own call to follow.

We are grateful to Ruth Hobson, and to her publisher Palewell Press, for allowing us to feature this poem. To find our more, or to order a copy of the booklet, go to


Some say the boat had silver wings
and a single silver oar
without a sound, circling around
and never came ashore.

Some say there were three, with crimson sails
and a king in every stern –
each gold crown gleamed and they sometimes seemed
to go and then return.

Some say the boat was draped in purple
weighed down with graven stones
and the priestly caste, before the mast
sat stiffly on gilded thrones.

Some say the boat was empty,
half-sunk and bound to fail
but wood and nails and white raised sails
told another tale.

An old woman stood up in the market
‘Stand round and listen to me!
The boat of your tales with tattered sails
is coming towards the quay.

The mother who crouches in the prow
is poor and dispossessed –
with sleepless eyes she calms the cries
of the baby at her breast.

Throw out rough ropes for outstretched hands
and bring them safe to shore
let their feet mark, as they disembark
a pathway to your door.

The place where we meet the homeless stranger
and the place where the lost are found
the place of our toil on familiar soil
tonight becomes holy ground.’

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