The Quarantine Quatrains: The Complete Poem

The garden hut mentioned in the poem, and where it was written

I have recently posted one or two sections of a longer poem called The Quarantine Quatrains, written in a kind of  loose conversation with Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and employing his same quatrain stanza form. The poem began in the same laconic, wistful, urbane manner as Fitzgerald’s original, and continued its theme of savouring and cherishing each moment of our brief lives, but, in these extraordinary times, my poem moved naturally towards something more meditative, and ends in elegy and prayer for those who have lost their lives.

The word Quarantine, of course contains the word 40, because 40 days was the original period of quarantine. I fear our lockdown will last much longer than that, but by my reckoning, today is our 40th day: a good day to publish these 40 Quarantine Quatrains, arranged in seven episodes. I will continue to post and comment separately on some of the individual sections, but here, for those who would like to read or hear it whole, are all seven sections of the complete poem. As always you can hear me read each section of the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the Roman numeral.

The Quarantine Quatrains: a new Rubaiyat

 I

1

Awake to what was once a busy day

When you would rush and hurry on your way

Snatch at your breakfast, start the grim commute

But time and tide have turned another way.

2

For now, like you, the day is yawning wide

And all its old events are set aside

It opens gently for you, takes its time

And holds for you -whatever you decide.

3

This morning’s light is brighter than it seems

Your room is raftered with its golden beams

The bowl of night was richly filled with sleep

And dawn’s left hand is holding all your dreams

4

Your mantle clock still sounds its silver chime

The empty page invites an idle rhyme

This quarantine has taken many things

But left you with the precious gift of time

5

Your time is all your own – yet not your own

The rose may open, or be overblown

So breathe in this day’s fragrance whilst you may

To each of us the date of death’s unknown.

6

Then settle at your desk, uncap your pen

And open the old manuscript again

The empty hours may tease you out of thought

Yet leave you with a poem now and then

 

II

 7

I think of old Khayyam who ‘stood before

The tavern shouting open up the door’

And wish I might carouse the night with him

Alas that such carousals are no more

8

I’ll keep the rules my country has imposed

My life, like my small garden, is enclosed,

But still I’ll raise a glass and pledge my friends

Although, for us, the tavern door is closed

9

For in my cellar, ranged in dusty rows,

Are sleeping poets waiting to disclose

Deep memories of St. Emillion

Whose vineyards reach to where the Dordogne flows

10

And with these wines I travel where I please

From Rhineland to the lofty Pyrenees,

I saunter though the chateaus of the loire,

Drawing the cork on any one of these.

11

So with the poets let me praise the vine

And pledge my absent friends in vintage wine

Sensing, sometimes, the savour at my lips

Speaks of a love both human and divine.

12

And when I come to taste my life’s last drop,

When all that flowed in me comes to a stop,

Then let me see my saviour pledge his love,

Come close to me, and help me drink the cup.

 

III

 13

Some days I am diverted by a call:

The soft computer chime that summons all

To show a face to faces that we meet

Mirages, empty mirrors on the wall.

14

Alas that all the friends we ever knew

Whose lives were fragrant and whose touch was true

Can only meet us on some little screen

Then zoom away with scarcely an adieu.

15

We share with them the little that we know

These galleries of ghosts set in a row

They flicker on the screen of life awhile

But some have left the meeting long ago.

16

We used to stroll together on the green

Who now divide the squares upon the screen,

The faces of our friends, so far apart

Tease us with tenderness that might have been

17

Some day we’ll break the bread, we’ll pour the wine

And meet and kiss and feast beneath the vine,

Till then we’ll sweeten solitude with verse

And yearn through pain, and watch each day decline.

 

IV

 18

Here in my garden hut, just on the brink

Of making some new song of all I think,

A sudden thrill and ripple of true song

Makes mockery of my poor pen and ink.

19

Beyond my hut a vivid glimpse of red:

A bright-eyed robin by the garden bed

Sings his mellifluous and liquid notes,

That utter more than all I’ve ever said.

20

Three busy sparrows soon take up the song,

Chaffinches and blue tits join the throng,

A pattern of bright music nets the air

And catches me off guard and makes me long,

21

Long for the joys that I have yet to sing

Long for the sudden flight, the lifting wing,

Long for the songs of summers yet to come

Long for the freedom future days may bring.

22

Though sorrow runs so deep, and our brief songs

Are burdened still with all the ills and wrongs

Of this sad exile, something in us sings,

Sings from that garden where the soul belongs.

 

V

 23

On Sunday morning, standing on my lawn

I bless the kindling of this Sabbath dawn

And do not seek withdrawal from the world

Since all the world itself is now withdrawn.

24

In Piccadilly Circus, still as stone,

Its central hub become a quiet zone,

Eros may loose his arrow as he will

The little love-god languishes alone.

25

From Marble Arch and all along The Mall

Only the pigeons still stand sentinel

And all the streets that thronged with rush and fret

Are soaked in silence almost magical.

26

No need to find the Isle of Innisfree,

Or seek with Brendan islands in the sea

For now the town and countryside alike

Partake the Sabbath rest of Galilee

27

And all that smudge of noise, the muffled roar

Of distant rush hour traffic is no more

The ‘roadway and the pavement grey’ both keep

A greater silence in the deep hearts core.

 

VI

28

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep
:

But now in every corner of the world

The wild things flourish whilst the cities sleep

29

For when they see our influence abate

The banished creatures soon resume their state:

Blithe dolphins sport along the grand canal,

Coyotes call across the golden gate.

30

The grass grows green in every city square,

The little foxes, once so shy and rare,

Saunter our streets and boulevards by day

Whilst birds and insects throng the cleaner air

31

How soon the tide of nature has returned

How soon renew the forests that we burned

How soon they seed and repossess our streets

Those precious plants and animals we spurned.

32

Perhaps in all this crisis, all this pain,

This reassessment of our loss and gain

Nature rebukes our brief authority

Yet offers us the chance to start again

33

And this time with a new humility,

With chastened awe, and mutual courtesy;

To re-accept the unearned gift of life

With gratitude, with joy and charity.

34

Perhaps we’ll learn to live without so much

To nurture and to cherish, not to clutch,

And, if I’m spared, I’ll hold the years I’m given

With gentler tenure and a lighter touch.

 

VII

35

At close of day I hear the gentle rain

Whilst experts on the radio explain

Mind-numbing numbers, rising by the day,

Cyphers of unimaginable pain

36

Each evening they announce the deadly toll

And patient voices calmly call the roll

I hear the numbers, cannot know the names

Behind each number, mind and heart and soul

37

Behind each number one beloved face

A light in life whom no-one can replace,

Leaves on this world a signature, a trace,

A gleaning and a memory of grace

38

All loved and loving, carried to the grave

The ones whom every effort could not save

Amongst them all those carers whose strong love

Bought life for others with the lives they gave.

39

The sun sets and I find myself in prayer

Lifting aloft the sorrow that we share

Feeling for words of hope amidst despair

I voice my vespers through the quiet air:

40

O Christ who suffers with us, hold us close,

Deep in the secret garden of the rose,

Raise over us the banner of your love

And raise us up beyond our last repose.

 

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59 Comments

Filed under imagination

59 responses to “The Quarantine Quatrains: The Complete Poem

  1. Jill Walker

    Thank you. That is so beautiful, and so relevant.

  2. Lauretta

    My heartfelt thanks for your beautiful verse, water for a parched world.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Mary Ferris.

    Your garden is just like mine.
    I love all your Sonnets and poems. Thank you for sharing.

  4. This is really great, Malcolm. Brilliant, compassionate, yearning.

  5. From a garden beside the waters in Texas I write you thanks and say
    Your words bring comfort, light and joy this new day.
    And blessing issues from your kindly poem
    Of birdsong, rose scent, the shuttered church’s ancient sweet incense.
    Thank you Malcolm

  6. Thanks a million for that lovely poem. I especially like how you write about the birds and animals reappearing, and the way nature is so quick to return to its natural state. “The wild things flourish whilst the cities sleep”.

  7. blessedreams

    Amazing!

  8. Kathryn Umbarger

    Thank you, Malcolm.

  9. So lovely

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  10. Hmm, something to reflect upon … wonderful Malcolm, thank you x

  11. Karen Foster

    Dear Malcolm, your poetry has meant so much to me during this period and given me a new appreciation for the poetic word. Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift. Bless you.
    Karen Foster

  12. Such a beautiful call to pause and reflect… to hope and pray… to see the potential revealed for a more harmonious relationship with Creation. Thank you for this gift Malcolm!

  13. Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
    Such a beautiful call to pause and reflect… to hope and pray… to see the potential revealed for a more harmonious relationship with Creation. Thank you for this gift Malcolm!

  14. Gillian Turner

    My friend Myrtle forwarded your poem which I very much enjoyed reading. I hope it is in order for me to quote some verses in my Quaker Meeting newsletter.

  15. “Your room is raftered with its golden beams” Struck by this phrase. The hollowing out of our lives seems to be a hallowing as well. This image of these newly opened spaces, of time and place, being “raftered with its golden beams” each day break is deeply encouraging.

  16. Thanks! I enjoyed it, although I am somewhat envious that you sleep well with the change in schedule.

  17. edj

    Gorgeous. Thanks so much

  18. As, always, you find the spiritual nerve endings still un-singed in me. Forty quatrains for 40 days of quarantine — what a wonderfully sobering and enlivening vigil. You ring the nocturns bells.

    This quatrain is the one that touched me most on first reading.

    And when I come to taste my life’s last drop,
    When all that flowed in me comes to a stop,
    Then let me see my saviour pledge his love,
    Come close to me, and help me drink the cup.

  19. Pingback: The Quarantine Quatrains: The Complete Poem – Daddy yo 15 blog.com

  20. Pingback: Quarantine Quatrains: a little celebration of wine | Malcolm Guite

  21. Elaine Levitt

    Thank you Malcolm for this. I think it will be a strength for me as we continue our strange journey through the quarantine.
    May I use part of it (with due ownership!) for something?

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Elaine yes that’s fine if you can include a link back to my original post that would be good. Hope you’re keeping well M

      • Elaine Levitt

        Thank you. Yes ,doing ok, even if feeling the bite of restriction . It is what it is for my age group! Finding poetry ,especially the psalms a comfort. God has always been in the midst of all life. A real reassurnace now!

  22. David C Brown

    A fine piece of elegaic work; some of the understatements are particularly moving.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. Yes, less is often more in poetry

      • David C Brown

        Not attaining to your understatement (or expansiveness):

        Awake, World, where things seem to fall apart
        For God has shown the limits of your art,
        Since for too many years you have ignored
        The way by which He shared His loving heart.

        Awake, poor Christians, for “How can you sleep?”
        While your frail ship tosses upon this deep,
        But now, “Arise, and call upon Thy God”,
        And grasp the word He gave to you to keep.

        Awake, my soul, arising from the dead
        And Christ will shine on you, as He has said,
        So that you gain the blessings He would give
        To those who go where He Himself has led.

        2 May 2020
        https://dcbverse.blogspot.com/2020/05/awake.html

  23. Peter Lockwood

    Thank you James. Such a sombre soothing gift.

  24. 😮💗🌹🍷🕊🐝🕊🍇🌄🐝

  25. Pingback: The Quarantine Quatrains:nature’s return in lockdown | Malcolm Guite

  26. Just love this I keep going back to it again.

  27. Christine Foulkes

    Thank you, Malcolm Guite, for this wonderful quarantine which I have shared with several relatives and friends, and reread throughout today. What an uplifting and wise poem. Bless you!

  28. This is absolutely fantastic! What a gift to the world this is! Thank you!

    Greetings from Norway!

  29. Chris McDonnell

    thanks for your words Malcolm
    My own small offering in difficult days is below
    Chris McDonnell

    Touch lost

    Look out your window
    at an empty April street,
    no-one passing.

    Listen by an open door
    for an approaching car,
    only a distant drone.

    Hope for a warming voice
    of the visitor,
    who fails to knock.

    Wait for the phone to ring
    and time to talk,
    a trivial exchange.

    Hunger for the casual hug
    of friendship,
    touch lost in confusion.

    Miss the warmth of a close
    pressed cheek,
    gentle in familiar greeting.

    Watch the Evening News for
    words that hold out chance
    of change.

    Turn off the light at night
    to encourage sleep, wait
    for the call of dawn.

  30. Pingback: Behind Each Number, One Belovèd Face | Malcolm Guite

  31. Candace Jordan-Russell

    Honorable Pastor Malcolm Guite,

    I was so impressed by your considered thoughts, sympathetic spirituality, and deft artistry, that I made several timely attempts to post a reply. Due to technical glitches I lost what I wrote on the blog before, but I shall essay again to post my response to your insightful reflections, although mine are no longer so apt since quarantine has largely been lifted here and I think there.
    I do hope that I will not be thought insensitive to all the woes of the virus if I limit myself to addressing the phenomenon of listlessness and complaints of boredom.

    As Wordsworth’s, from his shelter at Grasmere,
    Guite’s poetry flows forth to bless and cheer;
    and creatures great and small now pause to hear
    doxologies in vox humana clear.

    A ‘quarantaine’–for our Lord’s desert test:
    He, forty days apart at God’s behest,
    with wildlife company, by Satan pressed;
    tempted but triumphant in His quest.

    Just so, as eremites themselves recluse,
    we stay alone, in solitude amuse
    our minds, or else our aimlessness excuse
    if isolation such we would not choose.

    Or like becalm`ed sailors on seas still
    we, restless, watch for winds our sails to fill;
    like saints in prayerful waiting on God’s will,
    we look for inspiration for our skill.

    For those who stand their livelihoods to lose,
    sure, anxious apprehensions must confuse
    as to the future; or, as we review
    past providence: perhaps a divine ruse?

    A stratagem by One who knows us best?
    Hiatus to allow reflection, lest
    we miss our way, with worldly cares so stressed,
    and fail to heed that Word that comes in rest?

    Sabbatical (not end of our careers)?
    A fruitful leave? A time for changing gears?
    Moment to count our joys, let go our fears?
    An ally, not the foe that it appears?

    Thank you once more for your gift of the “Quarantine Quatrains.”

    Candace Jordan,
    writing from the New Mexico, U. S. A. wilderness

  32. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    A HEADY EXPERIENCE, THIS!

  33. Pingback: The Quarantine Quatrains: A Limited Edition for The Care Worker’s Charity! | Malcolm Guite

  34. Pingback: Behind Each Number, One Beloved Face: A Requiem for All Souls Day | Malcolm Guite

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