Category Archives: literature

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

Here is the poem set for the 2nd December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, The Moons comes from Grevel Lindop‘s latest collection of poems Luna Park (which I highly recommend!) and is used with his permission

You can read my brief essay on this beautiful poem in Waiting on the Word, and click on either the title or the ‘play button below to hear me read it. Linda Richardson writes about her image:

‘Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.’ These final words were the ones that jumped out for me as I responded to this poem, and also Malcolm’s comment, ‘offered to a companion in the darkness of our common journey’. So my starting point was night time, the soul’s time, when light gleams through our consciousness in dreaming. The poem spoke to me of memory and the sharing of life with someone, not the immediacy of sense experience. To paint a moonlight image was too immediate so I let the words literally gleam in white ink on black paper. In this way I felt that it was keeping the integrity of the poem, that our memories are uniquely our own, and we will recall them either for enriching or impoverishing our lives and the lives of those who are on our common journey.I noticed that it was she who saw and brought him to seeing. It was the feminine leading the masculine away from the desk of the intellect, to step out into the dark womb of the night and to apprehend a phenomenon of nature, the wonder of the reflected light of the sun at night. I am left with the wonder of the contrasts in our lives, the light and dark, the male and female, all the many different parts that form one body and one spirit.


The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Too many moons to fill an almanac:

the half, the quarters, and the slices between

black new and silvercoin full –

pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,

thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,

gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –

How many times did you call me from the house,

or from my desk to the window, just to see?

Should I string them all on a necklace for you?

Impossible, though you gave them all to me.

Still some of their light reflects from memory.

Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.

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Advent Sunday:Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti painted by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Advent is a season for stillness, for quiet, for discernment. It is a season of active waiting, straining forward, listening, attentive and finely tuned. Such is Advent, inwardly and spiritually, but of course outwardly and visibly, outwardly and audibly, it is the season when our eyes and ears are most complete assailed by all the glitz and glitter of a prematurely celebrated Christmas, all the pressure and sales-hype, the stresses on the diary and the wallet, the unremitting insistence of syrupy canned carols in the shopping mall. Of course partying and celebration are wonderful things and there is great joy to be had in the real meetings of faith and friendship in these days, but whilst Advent is still Advent, its good to keep a quiet space, a sacred time, an untrammelled sanctuary away from the pressures, to be still and hear again one’s deepest yearnings for a saviour. I hope that the poems from my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word, will help people to do just that. I am posting them here s that you can hear and read them, and if you have the book you will also find in that a meditative/reflective essay on each poem. I am posting this one for Advent Sunday, from then onwards I will post a poem each day and I am happy to say that these poems will be accompanied by original paintings made in response to them by Linda Richardson. Linda is an artist who lives in my village of Linton and has made a beautiful book of images in response to each of these poems as part of her own Advent devotion and this year she has kindly agreed to share them with us.

Today’s poem, the first in our series, is Christina Rossetti’s ‘Advent Sunday’. Most people will know her beautiful poem In the Bleak Midwinter, now set as a Christmas hymn. She was one of the great poets of her time and the author of some deeply moving Christian verse. Indeed her book simply titled Verses includes a sequence on the church year called ‘Some Feasts and Fasts’ of which ‘Advent Sunday’ is the first. She frames this poem not only in the context of the Collect for Advent Sunday, about the coming of Christ, his Advent at the end of time, but also the Gospel of the Day: Christ’s story of the maidens with their lighted lamps awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Rossetti takes the Gospel phrases and opens them out profoundly, allowing us to identify ourselves first with the bridesmaids and then with the bride herself.

You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Advent Sunday  Christian Rossetti

 

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out

With lighted lamps and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

 

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,

Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

 

It may be at the crowing of the cock

Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

 

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:

His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

 

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,

Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

 

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,

She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

 

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;

He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

 

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,

And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out

With lamps ablaze and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

As we approach the first Sunday of Advent, I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology offers the reader a poem a day throughout Advent and on through Christmas and Epiphany. I also offer a little reflective essay to go with each poem, which I hope will help the reader to get into the depths of the poem more easily and will draw out some of the Advent Themes and the way the poems link to each other. The book works entirely as a stand-alone thing and could be used privately or in groups, but I have also be recorded each poem and will post a recording of my reading of that day’s poem for each day of Advent on this blog, so that readers of the book who wish to, can also hear the poem being read. Readers of this blog can of course also enjoy hearing the poems, and might like to get hold of the book (which is also on Kindle) so that they can follow along the text and read the interpretive essay.

I will also repost the daily recordings each accompanied by an original painting from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.

Malcolm

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After Prayer is published tomorrow!

Photo by Lancia Smith from her interview

Tomorrow my new book After Prayer will be published by Canterbury Press. It’s the fourth collection of my poetry, and, on the eve of publication, I thought I would quote a couple of extracts from the full interview I did with Lancia Smith about the new book.

You can read the whole in-depth interview on Lancia’s excellent ‘Cultivating’ website Here, but here is a brief extract, about George  Herbert, and about the title sequence of the new book:

LES: Malcolm, you have spent considerable time and attention with the poetry of George Herbert. He shares the chapter “A Second Glance” with John Donne in your book Faith, Hope, and Poetry. His work and presence make frequent appearances on your website and in other poetry collections that you have authored, and you have even written a sonnet for him.  In our original interview in 2012 you mentioned that Herbert was one of the influences that shaped your becoming Anglican and finding a place within the Church.  With all the company you keep among remarkable poets (Keats, Coleridge, Tennyson, Heaney), what is it that you find uniquely compelling about George Herbert? Why does he linger as a particular influence in your life?

MG: There are so many ways of answering this, because Herbert is an attractive figure in so many different ways, both as a person and as a poet. I think the first feature for me, in both the man and the poet is a kind of inclusive balance and honesty. He writes about both the struggles and the consolations of faith, about both sorrow and joy, and to my mind the consolation, the joy, and the final affirmation of love which animates his poetry, rings all the more true, and is all the more persuasive because he is honest about the sorrow and struggle. As he says in his little poem ‘Bitter-Sweet’:

I will complain, yet praise;

I will bewail, approve:

And all my sour-sweet days

I will lament, and love

 

But there is also his personal example: the way he brings all he is and has to the twin vocations of being a poet and a priest. As a young man in Cambridge he was known to be dapper, perhaps a little indulgent, with a fine taste in clothes, in food, and wine, a sense of elegance and style. In one sense he sacrificed all that and laid it at the feet of Christ when he forsook worldly life for his priestly vocation, but in another sense, there is a resurrection of those gifts and sensibilities but this time in the service of Christ and his Church, not King James and his court. So prayer itself becomes for Herbert, a banquet, the name and sovereignty of Jesus becomes itself a rich and sensual thing, as in the opening stanza of his poem ‘The Odour’:

 

‘How sweetly doth My Master sound! My Master!

As Amber-Grease leaves a rich scent

Unto the taster:

So do these words a sweet content,

An oriental fragrancy, My Master.’

To be a poet you must have a certain sensuousness, a certain sensibility to the almost aching beauties of sight and sound. As a priest you must know how to transcend these things, not stop at them, or allow them to become possessions or addictions, but rather pass through them towards their all-beautiful source in God.

Herbert shows me how to do that, and that is why one of his most famous verses, in ‘The Elixir’ has become a watchword, a kind of personal mantra for me:

A man that looks on glass

On it may stay his eye,

Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,

And then the Heavens espy

 

It is that quality of ‘throughness’, of translucence, that makes Herbert so important for me.

LES: Herbert said of prayer that it is “the soul in paraphrase”.  The 27 word-images that Herbert uses in his poem “Prayer” might be seen as a kind of alphabet through which we can both be in connection with our Maker, but also create a poetic knowing of our own inner being. How do you suggest that we practice using poetry and word-images to deepen our prayer life? Are there pitfalls along the way you might warn us to avoid?

MG:  Yes, in fact one might see Prayer as having 26 distinct images, the same number as the letters in the alphabet, and then in the final, 27th phrase, a little coda, to say that through these images we might at last attain to the modest goal of ‘something understood’. So in that sense Herbert may have been deliberately offering the first 26 image-phrases as a kind of alphabet of prayer. I think we come to know the truth as much through images as through words and in my poetry sequence I have taken each of the images in Herbert’s visual alphabet and tried to sense a little of what they might be spelling out for us now. The sequence is the fruit of many years of leading retreats based on Herbert’s poem and exploring with the retreatants how each of these word-images might help us discern both the state of our own souls and also give us new ways to approach God in prayer. One way of practicing this in prayer is to take Herbert’s images one at a time and pray with, and through them; another is to follow his example and make our own cascading list of images and see where they take us. I have done that in my poem responding to his image ‘The Soul in Paraphrase’, in this new sequence.

 

To continue reading this interview on Lancia’s site click HERE

Of course there are pitfalls in all forms of prayer, and the pitfall here is to get stuck on the glassy surface of our own image and not pass through it or let Christ’s light shine through it, for of course the aim of all prayer, in the end, is to let God’s Spirit bring us back into Christ and Christ back into us.

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‘Heaven in Ordinary’ and a book launch invitation!

I am happy to announce that the official launch of my new poetry collection After Prayer will take place in the church of St. Edward King and Martyr, Peas Hill in central Cambridge on the 8th of November from 8-9:30pm. There will be wine and other refreshments, a reading of some poems from the new book and the chance to buy a copy at a discount and have it signed. All the readers of this blog are warmly invited. I know that for many of you there are oceans and various other impediments between you and Cambridge, but if you are anywhere near do come along if you can. If you are coming could you let me know at malcolmguite@gmail.com so I can make sure there’s enough wine!

If you want a feel for the book itself and for what moved me to write it there is a full interview Here, conducted by Lancia Smith for her excellent ‘Cultivating’ website.

Mean while here is another ‘sampler’ poem from the collection. As you know the opening sequence is a series of meditations on the phrases in George Herbert’s poem Prayer, so here is the sonnet I wrote in response to the most famous phrase in that poem: ‘Heaven in Ordinary. As always you can hear me read it by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Heaven in Ordinary

Because high heaven made itself so low

That I might glimpse it through a stable door,

Or hear it bless me through a hammer blow,

And call me through the voices of the poor,

Unbidden now, its hidden light breaks through

Amidst the clutter of the every day,

Illuminating things I thought I knew,

Whose dark glass brightens, even as I pray.

 

Then this world’s walls no longer stay my eyes,

A veil is lifted likewise from my heart,

The moment holds me in its strange surprise,

The gates of paradise are drawn apart,

I see his tree, with blossom on its bough,

And nothing can be ordinary now.

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A Sonnet for George Herbert, and news of a new book

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials

On February 27th the Church of England keeps the feast and celebrates the memory of George Herbert, the gentle poet priest whose book the Temple, published posthumously in 1633 by his friend Nicholas Ferrar has done so much to help and inspire Christians ever since. In an earlier blog post I gave a talk on George Herbert and the Insights of Prayer, today, on  his Feast Day, I offer this sonnet, part of a sequence called ‘Clouds of Witness” in my poetry book The Singing Bowl. The sequence is a celebration of the saints, intended to complement my sequence Sounding the Seasons.

You can get this book in the UK by ordering it from your local bookshop, or via Amazon

I will also take this opportunity to announce that earlier this year I signed the contract for my next poetry book with Canterbury Press and it should be out this October. It will be called ‘After Prayer’ and it’s centrepiece will be an entirely new sequence responding to George Herbert’s seminal poem ‘Prayer’. I have taken each of the 27 images in that poem as the seed or starting point for a new poem and written a sequence of 27 sonnets. In the next few weeks I shall be posting one or two of them on this blog as ‘tasters’ of the forthcoming book. Meanwhile here is the sonnet I wrote in appreciation of Herbert himself:

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

George Herbert

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials,

With all that passed between you and your Lord,

That intimate exchange of frowns and smiles

Which chronicled your love-match with the Word.

Your manuscript, entrusted to a friend,

Has been entrusted now to every soul,

We make a new beginning in your end

And find your broken heart has made us whole.

Time has transplanted you, and you take root,

Past changing in the paradise of Love,

Help me to trace your temple, tune your lute,

And listen for an echo from above,

Open the window, let me hear you sing,

And see the Word with you in everything.

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Bright Star; a thanksgiving for John Keats

John Keats died on this day in 1821, so I am reposting an earlier blog post paying tribute to him for all his poetry has meant and continues to mean for me:

Sometimes a poet, or even a single poem, can save your life. It can take you the way you are, in a place of darkness, loss or lostness, and, without changing anything, transmute everything, make everything available to you new, having ‘suffered a sea-change/ into something rich and strange. Thats how it was for me when I first encountered Keats, in my mid-teens,  a very dark period of my life. This poem, written in the Spenserian Stanzas he used so effectively, is an account of how he changed things for me, and in its own way an act of testimony and thanksgiving. It is set on the Spanish Steps and in the house there where Keats spent the last months of his life. It was there, in the room where he died, that I first read the sonnet Bright Star, written into the fly leaf of his Shakespeare.

This poem is published in my book  The Singing Bowl  which is published by Canterbury Press and available through Amazon etc.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

Gold

 

The sun strikes gold along the Spanish steps,

Patches of god-light where the tourists stray.

The old house is in shadow and still keeps

It’s treasures from the searching light of day.

I found it once, when I had lost my way,

Depressed and restless, sheltering from rain,

Long years ago in Rome. But from that day

Everything turned to gold, even my pain,

Reading the words of one who feared he wrote in vain.

 

I too was ‘half in love with ease-full death’,

But standing by the window, near his bed,

I almost heard the ‘tender-taken breath’

On which his words were forming. As I read

I felt things shifting in me, an old dread

Was somehow being brought to harmony

Taught by his music as the music fled

To sing at last, as by some alchemy

Despair itself was lifted into poetry

 

I spent that summer there and came each day

To read and breathe and let his life unfold

In mine. Little by little, made my way

From realms of darkness into realms of gold,

Finding that in his story mine was told;

Bereavements, doubts and longings, all were there

Somehow transmuted in the poem’s old

Enduring crucible, that furnace where

Quick-silver draws the gold from leaden-eyed despair.

 

 

Now with the sun I come on pilgrimage

To find this house and climb the foot-worn stair,

For I have lived to more than twice his age

And year-by-year his words have helped me bear

The black weight of my breathing, to repair

An always-breaking heart. Somehow he keeps

His watch on me from somewhere, that bright star…

So, with the words of one who mined the depths,

I sing and strike for gold along the Spanish steps.

The house where Keats died, by the Spanish Steps, now a memorial, museum and library

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