Sychar’s margin cool | From an Old Soul

by Elouise

Jacob's Well at Sychar, E0587

It seems George MacDonald’s life is like a tug of war. His sonnet for today describes the place where he would like to stay, “nor ever leave.” My personal reflections follow.

August 3

Like one that stops, and drinks, and turns, and goes
Into a land where never water flows,
There travels on, the dry and thirsty day,
Until the hot night veils the farther way,
Then turns and finds again the bubbling pool—
Here would I build my house, take up my stay.
Nor ever leave my Sychar’s margin cool.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Augsburg Fortress 1994

In this sonnet, MacDonald describes his life as a tug of war between the place toward which he is drawn, and all other destinations. He’s like a traveler who gladly quenches his thirst, then turns and goes into the desert, ‘a land where never water flows.’ Driven by thirst, he returns to the only place that will satisfy him—‘the bubbling pool.’

MacDonald calls his pool ‘my Sychar’s margin cool.’ Like living in an oasis in a desert, he wants to stay here forever. He doesn’t want more forays into the desert. He wants to live within the green boundaries of his version of Jacob’s well. An area marked off by life springing up from life-giving water. The kind of water Jesus received and offered to the woman of Samaria when she came to Jacob’s well thirsty, and found Jesus, the living water.

MacDonald’s confession of his struggle, already begun in the prior sonnet, gives me pause. He isn’t talking about some other traveler who, weary of staying at home or ploughing the field, wanders off to experience his own desert-like version of liberty. He’s talking about himself.

MacDonald invites me to see myself in his restless journeys, punctuated with grateful returns to home base. I can’t help asking where I go to quench my thirst. Where am I most at home? Most free to be who I am?

Though it’s a real place, it’s more than physical. It’s in my heart and in my memory. A place that always draws me home to God’s heart and God’s peace. I just have to go there and sit awhile on the banks of the river in front of our house near Savannah, Georgia, and listen for God.


Like Jacob’s well at Sychar, it’s about God and it’s about water. The sound, sight, and smell of rivers of water that quench my thirst for God and my thirst to be who I am, God’s beloved daughter-child.

Do you have a well, a bubbling pool or a river? A place that serves as an icon for God’s overflowing grace and mercy toward you no matter what your circumstances are? Do you?

I retreat to my secret place often. I want to live and rest in my full inheritance. The one God has already prepared for me. Sweet, expansive liberty found only when I turn my face Godward. Only when I return home for yet another intoxicating taste of true liberty.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 January 2016
“Jacob’s Well, at Sychar” engraved by F.W.Topham, after a picture by W.H.Bartlett, published in The Christian in Palestine, about 1840. Steel engraved print with recent hand colour. Image from
Photo credit: DAFraser, Summer 2010, near Savannah, Georgia