Holy Saturday: ‘He Comes To Harrow Hell’

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This poem, the second in my sequence  ‘On Reading the Commedia’,  a new sequence of nine poems about the experience of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, seems a good one to share on Holy Saturday, the day on which we think of Christ descending into Hell to bring his light and good news to the dead, as Peter says, ‘preaching to the souls in prison’. There are many ways in which we might understand that phrase in the creed ‘He descended into Hell’. Dante’s allegory suggests that at one level the hell into which Christ descends to set us free is the dark terrain of our own souls, the terrain he maps out and invites us to traverse in his Inferno.

My own poem is written in the conviction that that there is no depth or recess, no sin or secret, in me or in anyone, beyond the light of Christ, but we have to open the gate and let him come down to our depths, let his Light reveal and name and heal what we have hidden. Dante’s poem, his amazing cartography of Hell, is written to help us do that. So here is the second of my ‘Dante ‘ Sequence. As before, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

The whole sequence is now collected together and published in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop. You can also read and hear the whole sequence on this blog, the final poem Here contains links to all the others.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere


And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain


Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,


The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares


Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.


Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart


And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk


And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind


He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core


Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?


Filed under christianity, Poems

4 responses to “Holy Saturday: ‘He Comes To Harrow Hell’

  1. Jack H. Haney

    Dear Malcolm, thank you for this and the other sonnets. You anoint me and this iPad daily with oil of God’s Love. I also read your posts on FB. I am a retired Episcopal Priest and continue in disabilities, but you gladden my heart and mind here on the internet and in your books. Wishing you a Blessed Easter, Jack H Haney+ in Fairhaven, Mass.

    Sent from my iPad


    • malcolmguite

      Dear Jack many thanks for this encouraging note. I marvel at the technology that enables me to share poems in this way and it’s good to be able to put it to good use. Yours Malcolm

  2. Stephen

    Hello Malcolm,
    I have not read any of your poetry before (though I have heard of you) I was having a poetry day today re-reading some of my favourite poems to see how the passing years had changed my views on them. When a friend on Facebook posted your ‘He comes to Harrow Hell’ poem. Now, I am most definitely not a Christian by firm conviction and perhaps by psychological predisposition. My friend is by both of the above and by profession (a pastor in the USA) On a mundane note I do wish I had not read your explanation of the poem before I read it. It acted as a bit of a plot spoiler. I much prefer to read poetry sans the tale of its creation. I will happily read it after my first reading or hearing it if the poet is reading it in public.
    The poem made me think of George Herbert’s Love Bade me Welcome and D H Lawrence’s New Heaven and Hell (not big a fan of DH) insofar as the feelings of sin and unworthiness I thought I detected in your voice.
    I have often wondered who this person in peoples head’s is? the person who sits in judgement looking down on us and invariably finding us wanting. You might put this down to a variety of reasons it’s our conscience (but doesn’t make cowards of us all?) perhaps that small part of us the recognises our inescapable state of sin. I don’t know but I wonder how and why he gets all these ideas from? if he is not us who is he?
    I’ll finish now don’t want to burden you any more.
    But, I have read all of your verse on Dante the high point for me was The Rose that sung to me thought it was/is sublime so thank you for that.
    P.S my favourite poem is Larkin’s Aubade then his Church Going closely followed by Heaney’s Digging just to show you where I am at. Can’t be standing these too clever for their own good poets like Ezra Pound to name but one.

  3. Pingback: Through the Gate » The Fellowship of St. Barnabas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.