Author Archives: malcolmguite

About malcolmguite

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.

‘Like A Green Olive Tree’: A Response to Psalm 52

After the astringency, the release and restoration of Psalm 51 the Psalter returns us to the image with which the whole collection opens: a green and flourishing tree deeply rooted in the goodness of God himself, and this time it is specifically an Olive Tree, the sign of peace and healing, of God’s deepest Shalom. We arrive at this image of the tree at the end of psalm 52 by way of contrast with the vain boasting of the tyrant, whom, in the end, God will ‘laugh to scorn’. My poem also mentions the tyrant in passing (for he is passing!) but begins and ends with the beautiful tree.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

LII Quid gloriaris?

Of all your loving God has done for you,
Of all his many mercies on your soul,
Surely the greatest was his planting you

Like a green olive tree, secure and whole,
To grow within his holy house forever.
Be rooted once again in the rich soil

Of his deep love, and know that none can sever,
No power on earth can ever separate
You from the steadfast love of Christ your saviour.

So let the tyrants boast. Their desperate
Endeavours to maintain their Godless power
Will come to nothing soon, evaporate

Like morning mist before the sun. The hour
Is coming and has come. Their time is up,
But you will flourish in God’s house forever.

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‘He Mends Your Broken Bones’ a Response to Psalm 51

In our poetic journey through the psalms we come now to psalm 51, the great psalm of David’s repentance and renewal, and so also of ours. From the time these words helped David to confess his sin and come back to God to be cleansed, indeed, remade in his grace they have also provided very generation with the words of return, the courage of honesty, the promise and achievement of a new beginning. For those of us who encounter and pray the psalms in our liturgy, those of us for whom each psalm is still a song, the words of this psalm are inextricably linked with the astringent beauty of Allegri’s setting of the Miserere which we here sung always on Ash Wednesday but also on other occasions when we need it, and my poetic response is both to the psalm itself and to Allegri’s beautiful setting of it.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

LI Miserere mei, Deus

LI Miserere mei, Deus

 

He calls you to discern his time and season.

The sempiternal season of his mercy

Lifts like the sun above your dark horizon.

 

Expose your darkness, sing your miserere,

His light will judge, and judging, heal your sin.

Then bathe in sheer beauty, as Allegri

 

Sounds out your penitence, and let Christ clean

Your soul once more and scrub out every stain

Washing you thoroughly. For he has seen

 

What you confess and what you hide. Again

He mends your broken bones and makes for you

A clean heart, comes to comfort you again,

 

Comes with his Holy Spirit to renew

The spirit in you, calling you to sing

Of all your loving God has done for you.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a birthday sonnet, and a book

SamuelTaylorColeridgeThe great poet, philosopher, and Christian sage, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st of October in 1772, so I am reposting this sonnet for his birthday!

I should also mention that in 2017 I published Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge which has been well and widely reviewed and examines Coleridge’s life and faith in fresh ways, through the lens of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, his most famous poem.

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved, his contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my own struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide.In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my  book The Singing Bowl,  published last year by the Canterbury Press.

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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A Sonnet for St. Luke’s Day

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

The 18th of October, is the feast day of St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist, and so I am reposting this sonnet in his honour. This poem comes from Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year.  My sonnets in that series, include a mini-sequence on 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 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. In this iconographic tradition Luke’s emblem is the ox, the lowly servant 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.

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 of his brother Luc.  The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press  and is available from all the usual Amazons etc.

 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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‘Our God Shall Come: A Response to Psalm 50

Rebecca Merry’s cover for David’s Crown

We have come to an important milestone or staging post in our journey through the psalms: 50! A third of the way through! So I thought I’d take this occasion to confirm that this collection of responses to the psalms will indeed be coming out as a book next year, published by Canterbury Press under the title ‘David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms’. As you will see from the picture above Rebecca Merry, who did the cover art for Sounding the Seasons has also made some beautiful art work for the new book. So do look out for it.there is already a page for pre-orders here. 

Psalm 50 gives us a glimpse of God’s beauty and majesty as it glimmers already through the light and beauty of the world:

  1. THE Lord, even the most mighty God, hath spoken: and called the world, from the rising up of the sun unto the going down thereof.

  2. Out of Sion hath God appeared: in perfect beauty.

But it also promises a greater presence when he shall come in the fulness of his glory to bring justice at last to the earth:

Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: there shall go before him a consuming fire, and a mighty tempest shall be stirred up round about him.

He shall call the heaven from above: and the earth, that he may judge his people.

These themes added a sense of joy and promise to my poem. You can press the ‘play’ button to hear me read it

L Deus deorum
 
Your heart’s in heaven, keep your treasure there,
For Heaven itself is coming to the earth!
Our God is coming, and he will appear
 
In perfect beauty. All these pangs of birth
Will turn to joy as our whole world is born
Again in him. The pain, the want, the dearth,
 
The dark, will vanish in that rising dawn,
And all the creatures on a thousand hills:
People and beasts and birds, that holy morn,
 
Will join in one dawn chorus. Glory spills
Already from beneath that glad horizon
And even now you hear his voice. He calls
 
You through your conscience, and your reason,
He calls you through your deep imagination
He calls you to discern his time and season.

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The Strong Song of His Wisdom: A Response to Psalm 49

Psalm 49, with its famous line: ‘I will incline mine ear to the parable: and shew my dark speech upon the harp’, is a psalm about listening, about tuning in to hear the voice of God’s wisdom, even in the midst of the cacophony of false claims that surround us. It’s a call to reject the world’s way, which trusts in passing wealth, and to put our trust again in the only thing that remains: the abiding love of God. This is a psalm that gives us back our spiritual compass in a world that veers back and forth between false hope and premature despair, and that is something I have tried to reflect in this poem.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right

XLIX Audite haec, omnes

Where Christ himself is there to welcome you
Then you are home, wherever you may fare.
And Christ will keep your inner compass true

Though all the world is rushing everywhere,
This way and that before the winds of fear,
 Between false hopes and premature despair.

But you can hear a different tune. You hear
The strong song of his wisdom. Open your ears
To hear his parables, although the foolish veer

Between their fatuous desires and fears,
With fickle fortunes that they fear to share.
Keep your security in Christ, who hears

The slightest murmur of your smallest prayer,
And do not be afraid, but trust in him,
Your heart’s in heaven, keep your treasure there. 

.

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A Sonnet for St. Francis

st-francis-of-assisiSt. Francis Day falls on the 4th of October so I thought I would repost 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 book The Singing Bowl, published by Canterbury Press. It is also available from Amazon UK Here, and USA Here and in Canada 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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A Villanelle for National Poetry Day

Ah, here is the poem thats causing the problem! Its by Guite of course!

It’s National Poetry Day here in the UK so I thought I’d post this villanelle up in honour of the day. I was once photocopying some poems for a talk when the whole machine ground to a halt, totally jammed. I pulled what poetry I could from its innards and rushed off to give my talk. When I came back the woman in charge of the machine pointed an accusing finger and said “Your poetry is jamming my machine!” I thought that was such a great line that I borrowed it and wrote her this poem for her to make ammends.

As always you can hear it by clicking the ‘play’ button, if it appears or else clicking the hyperlink in the poem’s inordinately long title. 🙂

On being told my poetry was found in a broken photocopier

My poetry is jamming your machine

It broke the photo-copier, I’m to blame,

With pictures copied from a world unseen.

 

My poem is in the works -I’m on the scene

We free my verse, and I confess my shame,

My poetry is jamming your machine.

 

Though you berate me with what might have been,

You stop to read the poem, just the same,

And pictures, copied from a world unseen,

 

Subvert the icons on your mental screen

And open windows with a whispered name;

My poetry is jamming your machine.

 

For chosen words can change the things they mean

And set the once-familiar world aflame

With pictures copied from a world unseen

 

The mental props give way, on which you lean

The world you see will never be the same,

My poetry is jamming your machine

With pictures copied from a world unseen

 

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Michaelmas: a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael at Mont St. Michell -photo by Margot Krebs Neale

The end of September brings us to the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term. The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and, following an image from the book of Revelation, is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represents, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free to discern and choose. He is celebrated and revered in all three Monotheistic religions. There is a good, full account of him here. And here is a bright and playful image of him by the Cambridge Artist Rebecca Merry, who has done a number of icons and other images of the Archangels. You can see more of her art here, and also in the Byard Art Gallery.

And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright

And here is a response to the poem from photographer Margot Krebs Neale, weaving the words at the heart of the poem into the heart-shaped image. More of Margot’s work can be seen here.

This poem comes from my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press, As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears, or the title.

Michaelmas

Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,

And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.

He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear

To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

Archangel bring your balance, help me turn

Upon this turning world with you and dance

In the Great Dance. Draw near, help me discern,

And trace the hidden grace in change and chance.

Angel of fire, Love’s fierce radiance,

Drive through the deep until the steep waves part,

Undo the dragon’s sinuous influence

And pierce the clotted darkness in my heart.

Unchain the child you find there, break the spell

And overthrow the tyrannies of Hell.

 

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‘In The Midst Of Thy Temple’: A Response To Psalm 48

Psalm 48 is a celebration of the city of Zion and the temple in her midst, a celebration of the covenant promise that God would faithfully meet his people there. For a Christian this psalm takes on a new significance. Firstly because we know that the Temple, the meeting place of God and his people was a archetype and foreshadowing of Christ, who would himself be the temple, the meeting place of God and the whole of humanity. And secondly because of the wonderful truth that when we are members of the body of Christ, whose body is the true temple, then we ourselves, both body and soul, become a temple of the Holy Spirit, that Christ himself comes into us to a abide with us and in us. No longer need we travel to some outer destination to meet with God, but need only turn inward to find that ‘in our hearts are the highways to Zion’. The temple is already there within us, and Christ is waiting, deep in the mystery of our own heart and soul, if only we will enter those depths and find him. And there, in the depth of our own being he will meet with us, to cleanse us and renew us.

This is especially good news for us as Covid tightens its grip and lockdown looms again. If we are self-isolating, or if our churches are closed again, we can find him in our own hearts and homes where there will be no social distancing, only spiritual intimacy.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XLVIII Magnus Dominus

For heaven’s king has made the earth his home

Not just the hill of Sion, but the whole

Round world. Call him from anywhere, he’ll

 

Come to you and make his dwelling. Hail

Him in any language, he replies

In your own mother-tongue. For now your soul

 

Is his true Sion, and each day you rise

Already in the city of your God.

So mark the towers and temples, and apprise

 

Again the beauty of your new abode.

Your soul is greater than you ever knew:

Walk round its walls, then take the holy road

 

That winds towards its centre, where the new

Temple of his spirit shines and stands,

Where Christ himself is there to welcome you.

 

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