The Sacred in the Secular

Francis Webb’s Incarnational Poetry


  • Bill Ashcroft School of the Arts and Media UNSW



incarnation, modernism, the everyday, Catholic, Ignatius, journey


Francis Webb’s poetry places the significance of Jesus firmly in the miracle of the incarnation, a moment that symbolises the presence of Christ in all creation, a presence summed up in the lines ‘The tiny not the immense / Will teach our groping eyes’. Drawing energy out of the Thomist tradition and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, Webb demonstrates a belief in the presence of Jesus in the quotidian, proximate aspects of existence, a belief he shares with other Australian writers such as Patrick White and Les Murray. Mentored in his early years by Norman Lindsay and Douglas Stewart, Webb’s maturing sense of the presence of Christ in creation required a severing of ties with their stridently anti-religious position. Consequently, his poetry is driven by the metaphor of the journey, specifically a journey towards the revelation of Jesus, a journey to the ‘Centre’—both the centre of Australia and the spiritual centre of life. But such a journey demands the apprehension of the divine in the proximate, material aspects of existence. In this way the poetry demonstrates that revelation lies in the journey, not at its end. Jesus is to be apprehended in every moment.

Author Biography

Bill Ashcroft, School of the Arts and Media UNSW

Bill Ashcroft is a renowned critic and theorist, founding exponent of postcolonial theory, and co-author of The Empire Writes Back, the first text to offer a systematic examination of the field of postcolonial studies. He is author and co-author of twenty-one books and over 190 articles and chapters, variously translated into six languages, and he is on the editorial boards of ten international journals. His latest work is Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of NSW and is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.


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How to Cite

Ashcroft, B. (2022). The Sacred in the Secular: Francis Webb’s Incarnational Poetry. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 35(1), 4–23.