Beatus Vir: a reflection on psalm 1

The Trees by Girton pond, a place I often meditate -photo Liliana Janik

Like many people I have found that lockdown has brought my reading of Scripture to life and especially the Book of Psalms. The psalms form part of our cycle of daily prayer as priests in the Church of England, but that practice is only a late flowering of a much longer tradition. The regular recitation of the psalms reaches deep back into Judaism, forms part if the spiritual life of Christ himself, and was a staple of Christian worship from the earliest times, especially in the emergence of monastic communities almost all of which make the recitation of the entire psalter the very centre of the turning wheel of their prayers.

And we recite the psalms not just as historical texts from ‘out there and back then’ but as inspired words given for our own hearts to sing ‘in here and right now’. For Christians there is the special sense that the psalms prophetically showed forth the coming and the inner life of Jesus. They are also such great poetry and so rich and varied in their imagery, that they feed and nourish the imagination and become a source from which our own original prayers can be formed and enriched. We pray with the psalms not simply by reciting the original text but also by responding freely and creatively to their imagery. So I have begun a new series of short poems, responding freely to the daily psalms, and drawing on their leading images, as a starting point for Christian reflection. My hope is to weave these poems together into a corona, a crown or coronet of poems, the last line of each linking to the first line of the next, a chaplet of praise to garland the head of the one who wore the Corona Spina, the crown of thorns for us, and who suffers with us through this corona pandemic.

So here is the first one, ‘Beatus Vir‘, as our prayer book calls it, ‘Blessed is the man…’ and in this poem I have responded to the central image of pslam one: that the blessed person should be and pray ‘like a tree planted by the waters’:

I Beatus vir

Come to the place, where every breath is praise,

And God is breathing through each passing breeze.

Be planted by the waterside and raise


Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,

Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.

Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,


Open alike to sun and rain. Arise

From meditation by these waters. Bear

The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise


In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share

The secret of their patience. Pass the day

In their green fastness and their quiet air.


Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,

Where simple being flowers in delight.

Then let the chaff of life just blow away.


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Filed under ecology, imagination, Poems

34 responses to “Beatus Vir: a reflection on psalm 1

  1. Elaine Levitt

    just what I need!
    Thank you

  2. Thanks, good work, I like this very much. Psalm 1 has been a favorite of mine, I memorized it as a child..”Chaff” is interesting–heard a sermon not that long ago. The minister (actually my daughter!) talked about chaff, mentioned that it is the necessary stuff to protect the seed as it matures, that without it, the seed would die. I’m not disagreeing or quibbling with the use in this poem, just adding this as food for thought.
    One possible typo: should it not be “slowly” rather than “sowly”, third line from the end?

  3. Kenneth Willis

    Be wise
    In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share
    The secret of their patience

    Enter into their entishness?? Thank you.

  4. Lovely! Can I use this (with acknowledgement) in the online prayers and readings I prepare weekly for our Church?

  5. Sally Phalan

    That’s lovely, Malcolm, just right for this reflective time. Husband, Tim, and I have also greatly enjoyed our “visits” to your library and much appreciate the opportunity to participate virtually in Evensong in Girton Chapel on Sundays. We wonder when (or even if) we will be able to travel from our home in Ireland to our beloved Cambridge again; in the meantime, we are very grateful for your imaginative gifts and for all you are sharing so generously. Thank you, thank you!


    Such a lovely tone is set from the outset, as if by holy invitation, where the reader is drawn in by the rich imagery and alluring flow of language to pause and consider the beautiful, good and true calling we pilgrims all must consider in this our life journey. The struggle made purposeful when we let go and let God lead the way.

  7. lindareid17

    Your poetry is astonishingly beautiful and deep and beautifully craftedand I have enjoyed it for quite a while! But now you have hit me where I live! I am a cantor in the Roman Catholic Church and the psalms are the center of my prayer life and proclaiming the psalms is a ministry for me! I cannot thank you enough for undertaking this project peace, Linda Reid


  8. Jean Jean Corney

    Thank you. This puts into words my experience of self isolation so far, the gift coming from isolation. I am breathing more deeply. Thank you.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks. Yes I was drawing on my own experience in isolation when I wrote this so I’m glad it resonates with yours

  9. Reblogged this on M Emlyn Humphries and commented:
    Peace becoming, allowing and resisting.

  10. Peace, becoming, allowing and resisting.

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  12. Su vernon

    That’s beautiful- Thankyou for sharing it

  13. What a lovely reflection and practice. You inspire, Malcolm.

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  18. A beautiful first poem in your series. Trees have a lot to teach us, I think. Best wishes.

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