Category Archives: literature

The Glance by George Herbert

image from

image from

For the 1st of December the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is The Glance by George Herbert. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, which draws on a psalm to which Herbert implicitly refers was created by Lancia Smith. you can see this and more on her  excellent Website Cultivating the True the Good and the Beautiful.. You can find you the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

The Glance

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The House of Christmas GK Chesterton

The sequence of my selection of poems for Advent, Waiting on the Word, resumes on the 1st December, but on this last day of November, a little pause between Advent Sunday and December the 1st, I am prompted by a lovely image from Lancia Smith, which Draws on GK Chesterton’s poem, The House of Christmas, a poem which contemplates the way that God made himself homeless that we might at last come home, to record that poem for you here, though it is not in the anthology. As always you can hear it by either clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.


Filed under Poems, literature, christianity

Thanksgiving: a sonnet

thanksgivingThere is no feast of Thanksgiving in either the British national or church calendars, but it seems to me a good thing for any nation to set aside a day for the gratitude which is in truth the root of every other virtue. So on the eve of American Thanksgiving, I am re-posting here  an Englishman’s act of thanksgiving. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the play button if it appears or on the title.

I composed this as part of a friendly competition with some American poets to compose Petrarchan sonnets on the theme of Thanksgiving. Check out this Excellent Sonnet from my friend the academic and poet Holly Ordway. You will see that we have both been influenced by the ideas and language of CS Lewis’s fellow inkling Charles Williams.

This sonnet comes from my sequence Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press The book is available in North america from Steve Bell here, or Amazon here. Since we don’t keep thanksgiving I have made it part of a mini-sequence of three centred on the feast of All Saints, which we have recently celebrated. The image that follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale


Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life that embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
The warp and weft that no one can unravel.

So I give thanks for our deep coinherence
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for you all, with every breath.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale


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An interview about my new book with Lancia Smith

image courtesy of Lancia E Smith

image courtesy of Lancia E Smith

The Photographer and astute interviewer Lancia Smith has kindly marked my birthday today by publishing an interview about my new book Waiting on the Word. You can read the full interview from her Website Cultivating the True the Good and the Beautiful by clicking HERE. Readers of the book who are going to read the selected poem each day may like to know that Lancia will generously be providing an image for each poem each day and I will be providing a recording. Both image and recording will be posted on both our sites.

Meantime to give you a flavour here are two snippets from the fuller interview interspersed with one or two of Lancia’s own pictures, with which her site is so liberally adorned:

What is the tie in observing rituals and the seasons of our lives? Why does it matter?

AMG: Well, we can’t think of everything at once! We are creatures who were made to inhabit time, though we also carry eternity in our hearts, and to be in time is to experience one thing at a time, one moment at a time, to have to lose one moment in order to experience the next. The danger is that we lose not only the moment, but the meaning of the moment. We become so eager for the next thing that we abandon the rich legacy of all that we have already been given.

The aim of observing regular times and celebrations, shared with a wider Christian community, is to stem that loss, and even reverse that flow.

By setting these celebrations in time, giving them each a recurring day in the year we can get Time, who takes things way to be Time who restores them. Time the thief becomes Time the provider! 


Image LanciaESmith poem Grevel Lindop

Image LanciaESmith poem Grevel Lindop

You have poets from a highly rich range of voices: men and women, people of faith and people not-yet-persuaded of faith, old poets and younger ones, black and white, widely known and some virtually never heard of, and a diverse range of styles from sonnets to free verse.  How did you choose which poems to use in this anthology and what are you using as the guiding principle in the order you placed them in the book?

AMG: Well, if I glance for a moment at my bookshelves, and perhaps if you glance at yours, or better still at the piles of opened books that are lying about sometimes on top of one another, I notice no apartheid, only a glad and free communion. On the desk in front of me Seamus Heaney happens to be leaning against Milton, the seventeenth century English protestant and the 20th century Catholic seem to be rubbing along fine, united by poetry. My Leonard Cohen, and my Dylan Thomas have somehow found themselves on either side of my George Herbert, and I can just imagine the conversation between these three poets, all haunted by a sense of the holy, all dogged by a melancholy undertow, all three of them wrestling with the heartbreaking alternations between ecstasy and routine. And if I turn from my outward and visible library to the bookshelves of my mind, where the books are not fixed but wander freely, where the pages and the very texts themselves are all alive and interleaved, where a line of Donne’s is suddenly harmonized with a line of Dylan’s, I find that magical things happen! I hope to make some of the same magic when I make an anthology like this. I know that academics have quartered and quarantined these poets into different categories, according to period, style, belief, world view etc. That has its place and purpose but it’s not what I’m doing here. In these anthologies I am not trying to impress the professors, I am breaking bread, sharing good things with my fellow pilgrims. Now because we are pilgrims, and there are staging posts along the way, special points in Advent to think about the antiphons, particular times in Epiphany to remember certain mysteries. I have ordered these poems to highlight those staging posts, but I have also tried to get some surprising conversations started, to put poems next to each other whose insights might highlight each other. For example I have put a poem of Donne’s and a poem of Scott Cairn’s next to each other, they are very different in period and style and yet both poets have something of the same heady mix of sensual attention, intellectual muscle, and rich spirituality.

But I also wanted a continuous thread of beauty, of something magical and numinous. Grevel’s poem, beautiful in itself, also speaks to the reader about looking out for beauty, threading beautiful glimpses together, which is very much what I hope will be happening in this anthology.

Image courtesy of Lancia Smith

Image courtesy of Lancia Smith


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Fire: A Sestina For Survivors

He waits in silence for his heart to break

He waits in silence for his heart to break

In this strange interlude between Remembrance Sunday on the 8th of November, and Remembrance Day itself on the 11th, I thought I would repost this sestina called ‘Fire’ which is about the trauma, the post traumatic stress, which so many soldiers have brought back with them from the theatre of war and have to deal with in civilian life.

There was a former soldier, now a homeless man, who used to come sometimes into the back of our church in Cambridge. Dressed in camouflage and carrying an imaginary rifle he would squat behind the pews, take aim at the pulpit, or edge his way round the side of the church, clearly frightened and looking for cover. We knew he was reliving things we could scarcely imagine and we did our best to calm him and make him feel welcome (as well as dealing with the alarm he sometimes caused to members of the congregation.) It was meeting with him, and other former soldiers like him, that led me to write this Sestina, which is part of a sequence called ‘Six Glimpses’ in my book The Singing Bowl.

As a form, the Sestina insists that the poet return again and again, but in a different order, to the same six words with which the first six lines of the poem end. Of its very nature this form explores, repetition, return, trappedness, circularity, the very things with which so many soldiers with PTSD and their families are having to deal, so it seemed the right form to try and express a little of what I could see. I post this now so that we might remember, pray for and find ways of helping those who have been through the trauma of battle and cannot find their way back into ‘normality’ yet. I hope and pray that as awareness grows there might be more in the way of help and counselling provided both by the Military and the NHS, and perhaps more understanding from the general public.



He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.


They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.


But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead


And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.


He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’


‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.


And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.


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Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day

As we approach Remembrance Sunday I am reposting this sonnet about the two minutes silence, which was first published in my book Sounding the Seasons.  I’m posting it a few days early so that any one who wishes to can use it in services or events either on remembrance Sunday or on Remembrance day itself. As you will see from the little introduction below, I wrote it in response to the silence on Radio 4, and two years ago it was featured on Radio 4’s Remembrance Sunday Worship.

So here is how it came to be written. On Remembrance Day I was at home listening to the radio and when the time came for the Two Minutes Silence. Suddenly the radio itself went quiet. I had not moved to turn the dial or adjust the volume. There was something extraordinarily powerful about that deep silence from a ‘live’ radio, a sense that, alone in my kitchen, I was sharing the silence with millions. I stood for the two minutes, and then, suddenly, swiftly, almost involuntarily, wrote this sonnet. You can hear the sonnet, as I recorded it on November 11th three years ago, minutes after having composed it, by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title.

The striking image above is ‘Poppy Day’ by Daliscar and the one below is ‘Silent Cross’ by Margot Krebs Neale


November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

Silent Cross by Margot Krebs Neale


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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry and Events

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

The last Sunday of this month will see the beginning of Advent. I have just published Waiting on the Word, a new Anthology which 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 shall also be recording 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 am also delighted to announce that Lancia Smith, the photographer and interviewer, will be posting a unique image for each day’s poem and you will be able to see those too on this website as well as on her excellent site Cultivating The True the Good and the Beautiful

If you would like to come along and hear some of the poetry read live, or to buy a signed copy of the book, then do come along to any of the following four events, all clustered around the beginning of Advent:

Friday 27th November 7:3pm: O Come O Come; an evening of poetry and reflection for Advent

St. Bennet’s Church, Bennet Street, Cambridge

Wednesday 2nd December 6pm: ‘Advent with Paula Gooder and Malcolm Guite’

St. Matthew’s Church 20 Great Peter street London SW1P 2BU Full Details HERE

Saturday 5th December 2-5pm: Advent Reflections on Waiting on The Word, including book signing and short service

Hatley St George Church, near Gamlingay, Cambridgeshire Further information from

Sunday 6th December: 1-2pm Sunday Forum at St Paul’s Cathedral, London with readings from Waiting on The Word

full details HERE

Advent Malcolm Guite (1)Advent reflections with Malcolm Guite Hatley St George Church December 5 2015

Paula event

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