Malcolm Guite is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Cambridge. He is a priest, chaplain, teacher and author of various essays and articles and a book about contemporary Christianity.
He also plays in Cambridge rock band Mystery Train, and lectures widely in England and USA on poetry and theology.
Continuing my series of poetic responses to the psalms, we come to psalm 16. A favourite with many people, it comes as a sweet relief, a kind oasis after the tension and struggles of psalms 9-14, and the moral challenge of 15. Here we come to a sheer recognition of our blessings and a thanksgiving for them:
The Lord himself is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou shalt maintain my lot. The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage.
and then of course the beautiful promise in the final verse:
Thou shalt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is the fulness of joy: and at thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore
My response here picks up on that hope in our true heritage, especially as so many of the frail and unstable goods in which we use to put our trust have been withdrawn or are collapsing around us.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.
In my new sequence of poems written in response to The Psalms we have come to psalm 14, with its portrait of human folly and insolence and it famous opening line: THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. We can certainly recognise the characteristics of those who, whatever religiosity they profess with their mouths, have nothing of God on their hearts, and the psalmist’s portrait has been as telling in every previous generation as it is in ours:
Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known ; there is no fear of God before their eyes.
The danger however, with psalms like this is that we use them to point the finger at others rather than to hold up as a mirror to ourselves. Sometimes it’s the contrasts in the sequencing of the psalms that brings us up short. Psalm 15 provides a contrasting portrait to the fool of psalm 14. It starts with the searching question: LORD, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? and then goes on to paint the portait of a righteous man, which is in direct, almost point by point contrast with the portrait of the fool:
He that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. He that hath used no deceit in his tongue, nor done evil to his neighbour: and hath not slandered his neighbour. He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes: and maketh much of them that fear the Lord.
Of course if I try to hold this psalm up as a mirror, I see not my own face, but the face of my saviour. Only he can ascend that ‘holy hill’ and I will have to ascend with him or not at all. But, thanks be to God, he has come to have mercy on the fool as well as the wise man.
Because of all the ways these two psalms are contrasted and linked I am posting my two poems in response together so that they can be read in sequence. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poems.
The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May, but this year it was displaced from that date by the great feast of Pentecost, and so we keep it on the 1st of June instead. It is in fact very fitting to remember the visitation on the day after Pentecost, for it is a perfect example of the vivifying and prophetic work of God the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and I have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..
A Pentecost Banner at St. Michael ‘s Bartley Green
Here, once more is my sonnet for Pentecost.
Drawn from ‘Sounding the Seasons’, my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, this is a sonnet reflecting on and celebrating the themes and readings of Pentecost. Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists. In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are. So something of that reflection is embodied in the sonnet.
As usual you can hear me reading the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem itself. Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image which follows the poem.
Sounding the Seasons, is published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
Whose Mother-tongue is Love in every nation
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Welcome back to Girton College Chapel Page for a special service to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, also known as WhitSunday, when the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit
The choir, once more accompanied by the Conservatoires’ Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble directed by Jeremy West, will bring us music from Ingegneri, Cardoso, and Palestrina and I will share with you a sonnet and a reflection for the festival! (You can find the choir’s CDs Here) Once more we will enjoy responses and prayers composed by our own director of Chapel Music Gareth Wilson
Now to usher us into worship we hear the opening responses The KCL Preces (Wilson)
V:O Lord, open thou our lips. R:And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise. V:O God, make speed to save us. R:O Lord, make haste to help us.
V: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; R: .As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. V: Praise ye the Lord. R:The Lord’s Name be praised.
The psalm set for Pentecost is number 104 verses 24- end, you might like to say this psalm out loud, or antiphonally with other members of your household:
O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.
So is the great and wide sea also: wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan: whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein.
These wait all upon thee: that thou mayest give them meat in due season.
When thou givest it them they gather it: and when thou openest thy hand they are filled with good.
When thou hidest thy face they are troubled: when thou takest away their breath they die, and are turned again to their dust.
When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
The glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
The earth shall tremble at the look of him: if he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke.
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will praise my God while I have my being.
And so shall my words please him: my joy shall be in the Lord.
As for sinners, they shall be consumed out of the earth, and the ungodly shall come to an end: praise thou the Lord, O my soul, praise the Lord
V: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; R: .As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Soon we will return to our strong tower! Photo by Jeremy West
Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles is read for us by Ben Pymer, a member of the choir:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
V:The Lord be with you. R:And with thy spirit. V:Let us pray.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.
V:O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us. R:And grant us thy salvation. V:O Lord, save the Queen. R:And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee. V:Endue thy Ministers with righteousness. R:And make thy chosen people joyful. V:O Lord, save thy people. R:And bless thine inheritance. V:Give peace in our time, O Lord. R:Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God. V:O God, make clean our hearts within us. R:And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our lord, and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you and those whom you hold in your hearts, this day and always, Amen
Another blaze of glory in Girton Grounds Photo by Liliana Janik
who drank the bitter cup and in so doing made it flow with wine
Psalm 13 is one of the shortest in the whole psalter, and although it starts in distress there is a sudden welling of hope and renewal in the last two verses, as grief turns to grace and the heart is once more joyful, a pattern I have reflected in my poem. As with the other poems in this Corona sequence, I seek once more to draw out how the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is hidden in the pattern of the psalms.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.
We come now to the 12th poem in my interwoven series of responses the the Book of Psalms. We have been praying these ancient texts together as a church for two thousand years, but each generation in their turn must make these prayers their own and bring them to bear on the way we live now, and this is what I am seeking to do in these poems. When I came to read the opening verses of this psalm:
HELP me, Lord, for there is not one godly man left: for the faithful are minished from among the children of men,
They talk of vanity every one with his neighbour: they do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.
And also the 4th verse in which the oppressors say: ‘with our tongue we will prevail’, I began to think about all the technology of communication, and the lives we live online. Like many people I have been alarmed not only by the anger and absence of charity in so much internet discourse but also about the insidious ways in which some social media platforms have turned their users into saleable ‘product’, harvesting and marketing our personal data. Now we have brought this on ourselves and I am very conscious of the irony of even discussing it on the very media I am criticising, though I have to say the appearance of my poetry on social media is only a stopgap, its true habitat os the good old fashioned book, or the in-person recitation, and of course I hope the readers of this page will eventually prefer to have a real book in their hands when these poems are eventually published.
Happily Psalm 12 doesn’t leave us in despair about the human abuse and cheapening of language, but brings us back to the redemptive words of God himself:
The words of the Lord are pure words: even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire.
And so in the end my poem too returns us to hope in the words of Christ himself. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.