The land's long memory in ridge and furrow

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow

Here is today’s poem and commentary from my Lent Book The Word in the Wilderness
Prayer/Walk   Malcolm Guite


A hidden path that starts at a dead end,

Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,

And crossing places taken hand in hand,


The passages where nothing need be said,

With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot

And unexpected birdsong overhead,


The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,


A track once beaten and now overgrown

With complex textures, every kind of green,

Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,


The rich meandering of streams at play,

A setting out to find oneself astray,

And coming home at dusk a different way.


Continuing these reflections on the nature of prayer itself, I offer another of my own poems, which, like Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘Homecoming’, is written in direct homage to Herbert’s poem ‘Prayer’. I had come to notice that on retreats it was not always in the ‘offices’ in chapel, but also on walks and rambles in and around retreat house grounds that I found the deepest spiritual renewal and the best prayer. So I decided to write a poem that would be at once a celebration of walking in the countryside and of prayer itself. Every phrase in this poem is, I hope, both an account of what walking is like and an emblem of what prayer is like. As I have done with the previous two poems I will just lift out and open one or two phrases and encourage my readers to do likewise with the rest.


A hidden path that starts at a dead end,


I have noticed how often interesting footpaths and bridleways start just beyond the brambles at the end of tarmacked roads marked ‘dead end’. And it seemed, for me at least, that is very often where prayer starts too. I am sure that prayer should be a first resort, but for me it is sometimes the last resort when I’ve tried everything else! I’ve also noticed that the places in life where I get stuck and come up as it were against a ‘dead end’ sign, are inevitably the important places, the places where there is real stuff to deal with and that is precisely why I get stuck or find it difficult to move forward. Too often one simply shies away from these personal dead-ends and goes for the first diversion (usually Facebook!) to try something easier. But when I’m walking, the opposite is true. It gives me pleasure to walk down the apparent dead-end and find the hidden path where the cars can’t go, strike out across the fields and leave the traffic behind, so I have tried to apply this to my prayer life. To begin the prayer at one of my personal dead-ends and ask God to open up the path. That technique has had some surprising and beautiful results!


The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,


You sense, on a good country walk, the hidden richness and depth of everything that is going on around you. You know that what you actually see; the close up path ahead of you, the distant panorama, the occasional sweeping view of wider fields, are only a trace, a hint of what’s really there. Sometimes you suddenly hear the hedgerow rustle or see the tracks of badgers or deer and you realize that you are walking past a whole web of life and exchange of which you are only partly aware. Again, features in the landscape itself suddenly speak of a long history and almost take you there. The ridges and ripples in a field you cross that are remnants of the mediaeval ‘ridge and furrow’ agriculture, where your ancestors toiled on their separate ‘strips’ of soil, divided between the children of a large family. Again it seemed to me that this experience is very true of our prayer life. When we begin to pray we have to start where we are, usually just on the surface of our lives, but there is always so much else going on. We all have a familiar surface to our lives but are there not also, deeper in our psyche, the burrows and dens, where the shyer and more furtive elements of our inner life are rooted and nestling. Might these, half-acknowledged parts of ourselves also be brought to God for blessing, noticed a little and offered to him? Have we not also those longer and deeper memories, perhaps going right back into our family histories, which have, as it were shaped the landscape of who we are? Perhaps prayer, and particularly prayer in Lent might be a time to bring them for blessing and healing to God, for whom all times are present, in whom is the fullness of time.

Perhaps these last two poems, both responding to Herbert’s prayer, might encourage you to make a ‘listing’ poem of your own, filled with the images that have become, or could become, living emblems of your prayer life.


If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

Here also is a beautiful journal and illustration responding to today’s prayer from Tracey Wiffen whose blog you can find Here

Tracey Wiffen's journal

Tracey Wiffen’s journal


Filed under literature, Meditation, Theology and Arts

24 responses to “Prayer/Walk

  1. I’m greatly enjoying Word in the Wilderness for my personal Lenten meditations. Thanks!



    This is beautiful.

    I walk a lot on Dartmoor (though I do not pray, not knowingly anyway) and this chimes with me. Do you know/know of Satish Kumar? You would have much in common I think. 

    John Summers keeps telling me I must come and hear you preach. I will one day, as soon as I can, though my weekends are somewhat full of mother visiting (my dear ma has Alzheimer’s and is in a home) alternating when possible with escape to Dartmoor (hence the walking). But a trip to Cambridge is on my list, quite near the top.  

    Thank you for this beautiful poem. 

    Caroline xx

    ps I also read Late Fragments on your recommendation  and was moved and inspired.    Caroline Shea 07792 196941

    >________________________________ > From: Malcolm Guite >To: >Sent: Wednesday, 4 March 2015, 10:14 >Subject: [New post] Prayer/Walk > > > > >malcolmguite posted: ” Here is today’s poem and commentary from my Lent Book The Word in the Wilderness   Prayer/Walk   Malcolm Guite   A hidden path that starts at a dead end, Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend, And crossing places taken hand in ” >

  3. Karole Webster

    This struck a deep chord – thank you Malcolm.

  4. Physically, my cancer & treatment leave me unable to walk – and today feels like the first genuine day of Spring 😦
    But, bless you Malcolm, for this wonderful poem & post – which take me outside in my imagination in God’s company 😀

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Simon. I’m sorry your not able to walk physically at the moment but glad to hear that this poem has taken you outside in your imagination

  5. Malcolm Guite,

    Once again your poetry has touched and moved me in my deepest places and I am profoundly grateful for your service to our God through verse. This particular poem comes at a time when I am praying, preaching, teaching and encouraging a renewal of prayer in my local church. I am wondering if it would be permissible to include your prayer and comments in our local church newsletter. Distribution is to about 75 people, there is no charge for the newsletter and we would make sure that you are adequately acknowledged for you work (including information on how to purchase this book).

    Please let me know as soon as you are able if this is permissible or not as we will release the newsletter in the next two weeks.

    Curt Lunsford – Pastor New Life Community Church of the Nazarene 3367 N Geronimo Ave Tucson, AZ 85705

    520-887-8859 office 520-870-1362 cell

  6. Frances Knight

    The photo alongside this reminded me of the outlook from Launde Abbey where the sheep also safely graze, where i had the pleasure of meeting you in December 2014.

  7. Pingback: Malcolm Guite: Prayer Walk – excellent poem and reflection on prayer | Lent & Beyond

  8. Pingback: Lenten Diary – The Beginning. | twiff13

  9. Pingback: Lenten Diary – Thursday 19th February 2015 | twiff13

  10. My favourite reading so far ❤ I think! I loved the Maps but if I could marry an object or an idea it would be my landscape in my favourite places where words are the sounds of nature x

  11. Pingback: Lenten Diary – Wednesday 4th March 2015 | twiff13

  12. Pingback: Between Midnight and Dawn: A Different Way – Barnstorming

  13. Gwynneth Llewellyn

    I look forward to finding this book when I come to England or can it be ordered? It is not on my Amazon Kindle.

    • malcolmguite

      It’s definitely on kindle here and can also be ordered as a physical copy from Book depositary who deliver worldwide- thanks M

  14. Marsha Garrison

    Thank you for this poem and commentary. I was fortunate to travel off the beaten track in England and Wales recently (from the US) and was so taken by the “remnants of the mediaeval” and the glorious tension experienced while following a narrow lane between tall hedgerows. I was then, and am again, reminded of a favorite passage of scripture, Jeremiah 6:16a (NIV)–This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls….”

  15. Jennifer Marsico

    Dear Malcolm, I am loving getting to know your poetry, and your Lenten thoughts are so lovely and helpful!! My copy of The Word in the Wilderness arrives today (Asheville, NC) and I am so excited!!!
    Thank you!!!

Leave a Reply

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

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

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.