Discerning the tune: Two new poems for our times

Cantus Firmus

I am presently working on a new sequence of poems written in response to George Herbert’s beautiful poem Prayer. I have long felt that each of the twenty-seven images and metaphor for prayer in that exquisite sonnet could itself be the seed and beginning of a new poem and so I have decided to make my own twenty-seven sonnet response to his masterpiece.

I was going to wait a while to share any of these, but I felt the two most recent ones I have composed, responding to Herbert’s two lines

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

Kind of tune that all things hear and fear

might be helpful for some of my readers in the current stressful and disturbing cycle of news. For when I began the poem on how prayer does not ignore ‘the six-days world’ the busy weekday world, the constant cycles of unnerving news, the noise and pain and clamour of daily life, but rather seeks to transpose that dissonance into the key of love, I realised that I was articulating something I had been feeling for a long time about the damaging and depressing effect of barrages of bad news unprayed through, accumulating as a kind of uninterpreted cacophony in the mind. We need the gift of transposition and the power to hear, however tiny it might seem, the eternal tuning fork that sounds Christ’s love in the midst of things, the cantus firmus that grounds the music the cosmos. As I wrote this I also realised that my poems were haunted by Over the Rhine‘s beautiful song ‘All of it was Music’.

If you have been as disturbed and distressed as I have in recent days I hope the following two sonnets will help.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title. There is a little interference on the recording in the prose introduction to the first poem, but it clears up for the poem itself.

The six days world transposing in an hour


Twenty-four seven in ‘the six days world’,

In endless cycles of unnerving news,

Relentlessly our restless hurts are hurled

Through empty cyber-space. Is there no muse

To make of all that pain an elegy,

Or in those waves of white noise to discern

Christ’s inner cantus firmus, that deep tone

That might give rise at last to harmony?


We may not seal it off or drown it out,

Nor close our hearts down in the hour of prayer,

But listening through dissonance and doubt,

Wait in the space between, until we hear

A change of key, a secret chord disclosed,

A kind of tune, and all the world transposed.

A Kind Of Tune


A kind of tune, a music everywhere

And nowhere. Love’s long lovely undersong,

A trace in time, a grace-note in the air,

Borne to us from the place where we belong

On every passing breeze and in the breath

Of every creature. All things hear and fear,

For faintly, through our fall, we too may hear

The strong song of the Son that undoes death.


And one day we will hear it unimpaired:

The joy of all the sorrowful, the song

Of all the saints who cry ‘how long’,

The hidden hope of all who have despaired.

He sang it to his mother in the womb

And now it echoes from his empty tomb.



Filed under christianity, Current affairs, Poems

27 responses to “Discerning the tune: Two new poems for our times

  1. Jillian Wilkinson

    thank you from my heart, Malcolm! I am in daily despair about the ‘news’ and am kept balanced by such work as yours.

    May I come to evensong at Girton this Term? I miss your sermons and the music. all good wishes Jillian >

  2. Milton Finch

    Wow. How powerfully this was meant to be seen this day. Personally speaking.

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. I hadn’t intended to share them and then I suddenly had the strong conviction this morning that I was supposed to put them out there immediately. So I’m glad they met a need M

  3. Malcolm, these are wonderful – and wonderfully timely for many people, I’m sure.

  4. Gillian

    Yes! These are beautiful. wonderful and timely. From the west coast of Canada – on Thanksgiving Sunday – many – many thanks!

  5. Sonia Falaschi-Ray

    The are so good and apposite. Love Sonia

    Sonia Falaschi-Ray sonia@falaschi-ray.co.uk


  6. That is a great project, Herbert’s effusion being so full. As you suggest, each image is expansible to a poem. Thank you for the reminder, above all the world’s noise and news, that God is in control, and that Christ will publicly take control.

  7. julielwitmer

    So beautiful! Full of hope in the midst of strife. Thank you for sharing Light & Life yet again with us.

  8. Raine

    Thank you for your poems. I must have needed them – I feel a bit better now.

  9. Thank you for this.

    It does seem like we are navigating a noisy yet empty (‘hollow’) space. A cyber space between our selves that is both violently invaded and abandoned, leaving me to hear only my own cries echoing about in a crisscross ricochet of anger, doubt, and shame.
    Waiting for transposition.
    Cries of “How?” not so much “How long?” The latter implies hope. I’m waiting for transposition to hope. In THIS age.

  10. Chris

    As my Mum says, “I’ve read to the end of the book, so I have hope and believe in ultimate LOVE”

  11. Your introduction to these sonnets (“…the damaging and depressing effect of barrages of bad news unprayed through…”) helps me understand why I have felt so much comfort lately in leaning into the absurdly audacious hope our church prays each Sunday:

    “We pray that You will lead the nations of the world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct their leaders, especially Donald, our President, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace. Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.”

    To say these words as anything but bitter satire requires an effort of faith with pallet-cleansing, life-giving effect.

    I experienced the same effect upon reading these sonnets. Many thanks for your generosity.

  12. Re: The Six Days World…
    Such encouragement offered reading these words. Listening and waiting for the change of key – although difficult – gives me hope that it will arrive.

  13. Pingback: Artist of the Week #13: Malcolm Guite - Sputnik

  14. Pingback: After Prayer: a little taster from my next book | Malcolm Guite

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 )

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.