On Prebends Bridge; a reflection

I linger on this bridge above the flow, And idle stir, the swirl of the slow Wear

I linger on this bridge above the flow,
And idle stir, the swirl of the slow Wear

To my great joy I have been spending part of my Sabbatical term up in Durham, as a Ruth Etchells visiting fellow at St. John’s College. This means that every morning I can wonder down the cobbled streets of the Bailey, beneath a lovely old stone arch and out onto the banks of the river Wear to where the graceful shape of Prebends Bridge arches across the river. This poem was written  about the experience of looking out from that Bridge,both down at the river and up at the Cathedral, and holding in balance that double sense of the flow of time and the stillness of transcendence. I hope you enjoy it. I had the great privilege of reading it in the Cathedral only a day or two after it was written, and so sounding out its last line along that line of presence between two saints with which the poem concludes. An unforgettable experience. The whole of that Cathedral reading is available here.

As usual you can hear the poem itself, recorded the day it was written, by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. This poem is not yet published but will appear in my next volume. Meanwhile my new Anthology, The Word in the Wilderness is available here.

On Prebends Bridge


I linger on this bridge above the flow,

And idle stir, the swirl of the slow Wear,

Whose purling turns and gentle fallings call

Some inner spring to stir and rise in me.

The morning light lies richly on each arch

And signs its white reflections on their stone,

Telling me more than I can see or know.

I am a passing eddy in the flow

And force of centuries that raised this hill,

That shaped this sheer peninsula and let

The Wear’s slow curve enclose the city’s crown.

Above me on that crown I sense the pull

And presence, hidden deep within their shrines,

Of saints through whom the primal spring still flows:

Bede in the west and Cuthbert in the east,

A field of force in flux between two poles,

Perhaps the great cathedral is a bridge

Above the hush and hum of their exchange

Pushing and pulling through the pulse of things.


And now a bell is calling me to climb

And take my place with others where the choir

Unbinds a waiting Sanctus from its chords

And joins our voices, in rich Latin words

With all the company of heaven and earth

And with these two, between whose hearts we sing.

Perhaps the great cathedral is a bridge Above the hush and hum of their exchange

Perhaps the great cathedral is a bridge
Above the hush and hum of their exchange


Filed under literature, Meditation, Poems

11 responses to “On Prebends Bridge; a reflection

  1. John Robert Lee

    Dear Malcolm This mail introduces you to Kendel Hippolyte, St. Lucian poet and friend of many years. He and I have co edited several books on st. Lucian literature and theatre. He, his wife jane, a poet and fine critic, and I, are published by Peepal tree press in Leeds. Kendel and jane will soon be coming to London and I will give them some books for you. If it were possible to meet with them I think you would enjoy their company. Kendel is long haired and bearded like you ( smile). Like you Kendel loves and explores the good old sonnet, sections and villanelle forms, one of the few Caribbean poets to so discipline himself. His email is here so you can both connect. Enjoying the new poem which I heard you read. Pleasant echoes of Seamus in some places? Best as always, Jrl

    Sent from my iPad http://www.mahanaimnotes.blogspot.com


  2. John Robert Lee

    “Sonnets, sestinas and villanelles.” Obviously sestinas and not sections. Harassing Apple corrections!

    Sent from my iPad http://www.mahanaimnotes.blogspot.com


  3. Sally Phalan

    Thank you, Malcolm, although I rarely comment, I continue to drink from the well of your poems, revisiting old favourites as the seasons come around. A new one is a special treat – thank you for sharing with us the atmosphere of this special place you find yourself in, a beautiful poem! Sally

    • malcolmguite

      Thank you si much Sally, its good to know youre still there. There shoukd be wuite a few new ones coming up as this sanbatical is proving fruitful
      As ever

  4. Wonderful – so many of your poems give me goosebumps – that interchange of the spiritual and the visual and everything else! Love it. Just one comment … I’m sure you didn’t really write ‘who’s hearts’ …

  5. Dean & Darlene Pinter

    Dear Malcolm,

    Thank you for this gem of a poem from one of my favourite places in Durham to look up at those “mixed and massive piles.” We often pearled our own prayers out of the grit of life on those parapets. Two occasions stand out: the first when I prayed of behalf of my son when he was diagnosed with Leukaemia in Holy Week 2007; the second on the morning of my Viva on the Feast of the Annunciation in 2009. May you continued to be inspired while on your Sabbatical in the shade of those Grey Towers.


    • malcolmguite

      Thank you so much for sharing that. A bridge, any bridge, is a great olace to pray since prayer is itself a kind of bridge, but that bridge is special!

  6. Charles Twombly

    Glad for this poem. Glad for your visiting fellow opportunity at St John’s. Glad the name of Ruth Etchells is kept alive. She was a pioneer in more areas than one. In my dabblings in “theology and literature,” I revere her especially as a British counterpart to Americans like Nathan Scott (Univ of Chicago and, later, Univ of Virginia).

  7. Mark Hall

    I read this often from Prebends!

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