John O’Donohue reads his poem “The Nativity”

Renowned Irish poet John O’Donohue (1956–2008) wrote a poem on each of the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, a set of meditations on key events in the life of Jesus. These are published, along with other poems, in his 2001 volume Conamara Blues. You can hear O’Donohue recite his poem on the Joyful Mystery of the Nativity below. Read along here.

The poem makes ample use of water imagery: Jesus starts as a drop in Mary’s belly that widens into a ripple; the amniotic fluid gathers like a wave almost ready to break; Jesus prepares to “come ashore”; Mary fights back a “tide of tears.”

It emphasizes the physicality of Mary’s pregnancy and labor, declaring (obliquely) in the first two lines how a woman’s menstruation ceases during gestation, then moving on to birthing fluids and rounded bellies and heaving and “red wires of pain.”

Although an ordained priest in the Catholic Church, O’Donohue apparently rejected its teaching on the painless delivery of Christ. Like all biological mothers, Mary experienced the pangs of childbirth. The contractions, the stretching, the pushing, the ripping, the exhaustion.

But unlike any other mother, Mary brought forth, in a literal way, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

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