Monthly Archives: October 2015

All Hallow’s Eve; a sonnet of reclamation

The dark is bright with quiet lives and steady lights undimmed

Halloween seems to be creeping up on Christmas in the crass commercialism stakes, even here in England, where the tradition is less strong! Halloween itself simply means the eve of all Hallows, and All Hallows is the Christian feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’ a day when we think particularly of those souls in bliss who, even in this life, kindled a light for us, or to speak more exactly, reflected for us and to us, the already-kindled light of Christ!,  It is followed immediately on November 2nd by All Souls Day. the day we remember all the souls who have gone before us into the light of Heaven.  It is good that we should have a season of the year for remembrance and a time when we feel that the veil between time and eternity is thin and we can sense that greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong. It is also good and right that the Church settled this feast on a time in the turning of the year when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead. But it was right that, though they kept the day, they changed the custom. The greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Christ and if we want to celebrate our loving connections we need only now make gifts to the living, as we do in offering sweets to the ‘trick or treaters’ in this season, and far more profoundly in exchanging gifts at Christmas.

Anyway given that both these seasons of hospitality and exchange have been so wrenched from their first purpose in order to sell tinsel and sweeties, I thought I might redress the balance a little and reclaim this season with a sonnet for All Souls/All Saints that remembers the light that shines in darkness, who first kindled it, and how we can all reflect it.

If your church is marking all saints or all souls day do feel free to print the words or use the recording.

The image which follows this poem, and takes up one of its key lines, is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or on the title.

This sonnet are  from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press,

All Saints

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards

Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words

Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright

With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,

The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.

Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing

He weaves them with us in the web of being

They stand beside us even as we grieve,

The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,

Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above

The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,

To triumph where all saints are known and named;

The gathered glories of His wounded love.

‘Each shard still shines’ image by Margot Krebs Neale

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Before Abraham Was, I AM

The-God-who-Called-us-is-the-Great-I-AM-and-He-is-the-God-of-our-FathersI have begun a series of sermons at Girton College Chapel on the mysterious ‘I AM’ sayings in John’s gospel.  I started the series with the strange saying that perhaps provides the key to all the others, in John 8:58: ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’. Scholars agree that this is no mere confusion of tenses but rather a proclamation by  Jesus that he is indeed the great I AM, the one who disclosed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as the God of Abraham and who named himself  ‘I AM’. We know that this is how his first hearers interpreted this saying, for they heard it as blasphemous and tried to stone Jesus for having said it (John 8:59).But for those of us who accept that Jesus is the great I AM, that revelation is the very root of our faith. The first and primal reality, the foundation of the Cosmos, is ‘I AM’, not ‘it is’. The deepest reality is not a collection of meaningless objects, but a personal God who speaks in the first person and shares the gift of personhood with us. When we turn to Christ we turn towards the great I AM, the source and origin of our own little ‘I-Amness’. Turning and returning to that source is always a great refreshment. No longer do we toil to ‘make ourselves’, no longer are we anxious about who we are, we simply receive our being as what it has always been: a gift. For this reason link this saying in my mind with Jeus beautiful call ‘come unto me all ye who labour and I will give you rest’. You can hear the sermon Here. I have brought both sayings together in this sonnet which will be part of my forthcoming Parable and Paradox collection with Canterbury Press.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

 

Before Abraham Was I AM

 

Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58

 

Oh pure I AM, the source of everything,

The wellspring of my inner consciousness,

The song within the songs I find to sing,

The bliss of being and the crown of bliss.

You iterate and indwell all the instants

Wherein I wake and wonder that I am,

As every moment of my own existence

Runs over from the fountain of your name.

 

I turn with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham,

With everyone whom you have called to be,

I turn with all the fallen race of Adam

To hear you calling, calling ‘Come to me’.

With them I come, all weary and oppressed,

And lay my labours at your feet, and rest.

 

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A Sonnet for St. Luke

St. Luke accompanied by his ‘creature’ the winged ox

This Sunday, the 18th of October is the feast day of St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist and I am posting this a little early as there may be churches or individuals who would like to use it this Sunday. It comes from Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year.  My sonnets, in that series, present the four Evangelists together and the imagery in those sonnets is influenced  by the images of the four living creatures round the throne of God and the tradition that each of these creatures represents both an aspect of Christ and one of the four Evangelists.

‘...since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. ‘  St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (ca. 120-202 AD)  –  Adversus Haereses 3.11.8

For a good account of this tradition click here. I am drawing my inspiration both from the opening page image of each Gospel in the Lindesfarne Gospels and also from the beautiful account of the four living creatures given by St. Ireneus, part of which I quote above.  As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title of the poem. The photographer Margot Krebs Neale has again provided a thought-provoking photograph to interpret the poem, in this case one taken by her son Oliver.  The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press  and is available from all the usual amazons etc.

As well as being himself a Physician, and therefore the patron saint of doctors and all involved in healing ministry, Luke is also the patron of artists and painters. His gospel seems to have a particular connection with those on the margins of his society. In Luke we hear the voices of women more clearly than in any other gospel, and the claims and hope of the poor in Christ find a resonant voice.

 Luke

His gospel is itself a living creature

A ground and glory round the throne of God,

Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature

And One upon the throne sees it is good.

Luke is the living pillar of our healing,

A lowly ox, the servant of the four,

We turn his page to find his face revealing

The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.

He breathes good news to all who bear a burden

Good news to all who turn and try again,

The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,

A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,

The voiceless find their voice in every word

And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for this image

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Good Ground: A Sonnet on the Parable of the Sower

Van Gogh The Sower 1888

Van Gogh The Sower 1888

As many churches celebrate a Harvest Festival in these next few weeks I thought I would offer some poetry for the season. Some churches may like to use my little sequence celebrating the days of creation Seven Whole Days, but as the parable of the sower in Matthew Chapter 13 is so often set at harvest tide and is taken up in harvest hymns I thought I would also offer the sonnet I have written about that parable for my forthcoming sequence of poems Parable and Paradox, which will come out with Canterbury Press next year. Please feel free to make use of this or my other poetry in churches, and if you wish, to include it in church bulletins, just put a line to say ‘used with permission of the poet’ and, if there is space, put a link to this site. Thanks. This sonnet came to me very simply and swiftly like a song being sung, and so I have divided the sonnet form up into three four line verses, with the couplet at the end, which could itself be a kind of chorus, if anyone feels like singing it.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

 Matthew 13: 1-9

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.


Good Ground

I love your simple story of the sower,

With all its close attention to the soil,

Its movement from the knowledge to the knower,

Its take on the tenacity of toil.

 

I feel the fall of seed a sower scatters,

So equally available to all,

Your story takes me straight to all that matters,

Yet understands the reasons why I fall.

 

Oh deepen me where I am thin and shallow,

Uproot in me the thistle and the thorn,

Keep far from me that swiftly snatching shadow,

That seizes on your seed to mock and scorn.

 

O break me open, Jesus, set me free,

Then find and keep your own good ground in me.

 

 

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I Am the Light of the World

it shimmers through the living leaves of summer

it shimmers through the living leaves of summer

‘Light’ is the theme for this years twenty-first anniversary National Poetry Day, which falls today, so I thought I’d share my sonnet on Jesus’ saying ‘I Am the Light of the World’. This is one of a sequence on the seven ‘I Am’ sayings in John’s Gospel which will itself be part of a longer series on the sayings of Jesus called ‘Parable and Paradox’ to be published by Canterbury Press next year. The opening lines of the poem are an allusion to a famous saying of CS Lewis, which is now carved on his memorial in Poet’s Corner:

 “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The final couplet develops the motif of turning upstream towards Christ as the source of the river of light and life, an image I first used in my sonnet Pilgrimage, in Memory of Kate Gross and which is drawn partly from St. John of the Cross’s beautiful poem ‘ Although it is the Night’

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

I Am the Light of the World

“I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12

 

I see your world in light that shines behind me,

Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,

The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me

Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.

I see your light reflected in the water,

Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,

It shimmers through the living leaves of summer,

Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,

It gathers in the candles at our vespers

It concentrates in tiny drops of dew

At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,

But all the time it calls me back to you.

I follow you upstream through this dark night

My saviour, source, and spring, my life and light.

The Lewis memorial in Westminster Abbey

The Lewis memorial in Westminster Abbey

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A Website Revamp (and cheese…)

poets curdle words until they bite

poets curdle words until they bite

This is just to let you know that I have had a little go at simplifying and improving this website. The blog works just as it always did and still gives you new poems and a searchable archive of all the old ones, together with recordings of them all. You can now use the tabs above to navigate to the Books Events and Home pages which have all been updated. There is a new page (also clickable on the tabs above called ‘Interviews‘ which gathers in one place links to various interviews I have given about my work, life and faith, particularly to the sequence of interviews on Lancia Smith’s excellent website Cultivating The True The Good and the Beautiful.

The other new thing is that I now have a dedicated email address for any enquiries about readings, lectures or performances, which is malcolmguite@gmail.com and can be found permanently on the Home Page. I hope these simplifications and improvements will be helpful.

In other news, here is a poem about cheese (and poetry)! As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

‘The Poets Have Been Mysteriously Silent About Cheese’ GK Chesterton

 

Poets have been silent about cheese

Because whilst every  subject is the message,

Cheese is the very medium of their work.

We drink in language with our mothers milk,

But poets curdle words until they bite,

With substance and a flavour of their own:

So Donne is sharp and Geoffrey Hill is sour,

Larkin ascerbic, Tennyson has power

(But only taken late at night with port.)

,I like them all and sample every sort

From creamy Keats with his ‘mossed cottage trees’,

Tasting the words themselves like cottage cheese,

To Eliot, difficult, in cold collations,

Crumbling, and stuffed with other folk’s quotations.

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A Sonnet for St. Francis

st-francis-of-assisiIn honour of the great saint, whose feast day falls on October 4th, and as a reflection on the new Pope who has chosen that saint’s name, and so affirmed their common task, in Christ, to rebuild his Church, I thought I would post this sonnet which reflects the way Francis responded to Christ’s call by casting away the rich trappings he had inherited and embracing holy poverty.The sonnet, which I wrote shortly after the election of the new Pope, is also a prayer that Pope Francis the 1st will enable the wider church to do the same! As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title

My sonnets for the Christian Year are available from Canterbury Press Here and on Kindle here

This sonnet for Francis is taken from my new book The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press. It is also available from Amazon UK Here, and USA Here and in Canada you can order it is kept in stock by SignpostMusic


‘Francis, Rebuild My Church’; a sonnet for the Saint and for the new Pope

‘Francis rebuild my church which, as you see
Is falling into ruin.’ From the cross
Your saviour spoke to you and speaks to us
Again through you. Undoing set you free,
Loosened the traps of trappings, cast away
The trammelling of all that costly cloth
We wind our saviour in. At break of day
He set aside his grave-clothes. Your new birth
Came like a daybreak too, naked and true
To poverty and to the gospel call,
You woke to Christ and Christ awoke in you
And set to work through all your love and skill
To make our ruin good, to bless and heal
To wake the Christ in us and make us whole.

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