Kingdom Poets: Luci Shaw


Luci Shaw is one of the most significant Christian poets of our time. She takes on topics of significance to people of faith, yet refuses to undermine her art with preconceived, didactic ways of thinking, or sentimentality. One important topic for Shaw is the incarnation.

Since childhood, Luci Shaw has annually written Christmas poems; originally the practice was simply for inclusion with her Christmas correspondence. As her poetic skills grew, so did the quality and quantity of these poems. In 1996, she and her friend Madeleine L’Engle released the book Wintersong — a joint collection of Christmas readings. Ten years later Eerdmans published Accompanied By Angels, a book of Shaw’s incarnation poems, many of which had appeared in her earlier books.

Since then, this tradition continues to result in fine Christmas poetry. In 2004 Luci Shaw sent me an early version of the following poem — followed by a revised version in 2005. The poem was further revised (as reproduced below) for inclusion in her 2006 collection What The Light Was Like (Wordfarm). Knowing how she continually returns to fine-tune her work, I would not be surprised to find she has since revised it further.


When in the cavern darkness, the child
first opened his mouth (even before
his eyes widened to see the supple world
his lungs had breathed into being),
could he have known that breathing
trumps seeing? Did he love the way air sighs
as it brushes in and out through flesh
to sustain the tiny heart’s iambic beating,
tramping the crossroads of the brain
like donkey tracks, the blood dazzling and
invisible, the corpuscles skittering to the earlobes
and toenails? Did he have any idea it
would take all his breath to speak in stories
that would change the world?

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Luci Shaw.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:


  1. Becca

    I was halfway through marking out the scansion when I got to this line: “to sustain the tiny heart’s iambic beating.” Brilliant metrics there. And I think it’s the only place she does this except for the last line, which makes for a beautiful pair thematically.

  2. Becca

    And this!

    “Did he love the way air sighs
    as it brushes in and out through flesh”

    I can’t help but read it aloud. It sounds like breathing, right before the line that sounds like a heartbeat. I’m as jazzed as I was when I first read Wendell Berry’s poems.

    With such dexterity she handles “breath,” too.

    -Creator: Jesus “breathed” the world “into being.”
    -Faith: Breathing trumping seeing. (By faith, not sight.)
    -Beauty/Perhaps Resignation?: Air sighs.
    -Functionality: Breath to sustain the heart. (Moving the blood that would redeem us.)
    -Sacrifice: “All His breath” (The giving of His life.)
    -Communion: to speak stories
    -Redemption: “that would save the world.”

    Wow. I’m hooked.

  3. D.S. Martin

    Hey Becca:

    I’m glad there are people around who — like you — are savvy enough to really appreciate how good a poet Luci Shaw is! You can find a couple of Luci’s other poems in an earlier post at Kingdom Poets.

    God bless,

  4. Becca

    Thank you, Don. So nimbly she writes!

    I have found few modern poets who use formal elements with weightless grace. It’s inspirational to see idea, energy, and power hover in such perfect balance here.

  5. Becca

    Thanks for the correction on the misquote, YGG. I wonder if it is possible to change the world without saving it? I know that it is grotesquely common to claim salvation while never experiencing fundamental change.

  6. yankeegospelgirl

    Although I obviously can’t divine Shaw’s original intention, I would still say that because “changing the world” is being specifically connected with Jesus’ parables (“stories”) and general earthly ministry, rather than the cross, salvation per se seems to be missing from the overall picture. If the “stories” had been replaced with something more directly tied to Jesus’ ultimate purpose of conquering death with His death and resurrection, the poem would have been even more powerful.

  7. becky from NE

    20 years ago or more, a poem of hers titled (I think), “Mary’s Song”, from A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation, was included in some VBS material I was teaching. I’m not a huge poetry person, but that poem moved me and stuck with me. It really made me think about the awesome mystery of Jesus being “…curtailed, who overflowed all worlds, all years.” The poem is a series of contrasts between who Jesus is as God, and who he was as baby. Between his life in heaven and what he came here to do. “…And for him to see me mended, I must see him torn.” The thoughts are beautiful and the words used to express them are equally so.

  8. Sonja Sweet


    Thank-you for this post, D. S. Martin! I am just discovering Luci Shaw’s poetry, and especially love her collection “Accompanied by Angels”. In that anthology, this poem appears quite differently, but as it was also published in 2006, I am curious whether it was an earlier or later version of the words above. Either way, they are beautiful and moving.

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