Tag Archives: GK Chesterton

The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson. In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant.

Linda writes about today’s image:

How beautifully the subject of servant continues from yesterday, but in this poem we are served by God, not through human hands but through the material of our bodies and the environment. Perhaps we consider our bodies as our own possessions, unique down to our very DNA. But here we can ponder the thought that God sealed our skull and made our ribs. We are the created ones, we don’t create ourselves however much contemporary culture tells us otherwise.

Making an image every day is quite a challenge on top of family and work life. I already had this image in the studio and felt it suited the poem very well as it has a bark-like surface hinting at oaks on the upland, and primordial slumber. The words that sprung into my mind were, ‘who…shall speak of the Holiest’, and Psalm 139, ‘thou hast knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. I considered how I am a marvellous work, I am created by Him, utterly unique with my own fingerprint, and how His fingerprint is upon all His creation if only we took the time to see it. The art work was completed when I cut a square in the centre and placed a fingerprint upon it.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title, and read my reflective essay in Waiting on the Word

From the Ballad of the White Horse

And well may God with the serving-folk

Cast in His dreadful lot;

Is not He too a servant,

And is not He forgot?

 

For was not God my gardener

And silent like a slave;

That opened oaks on the uplands

Or thicket in graveyard gave?

 

And was not God my armourer,

All patient and unpaid,

That sealed my skull as a helmet,

And ribs for hauberk made?

 

Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?

 

For God is a great servant,

And rose before the day,

From some primordial slumber torn;

But all we living later born

Sleep on, and rise after the morn,

And the Lord has gone away.

 

On things half sprung from sleeping,

All sleeping suns have shone,

They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,

The beasts blink upon hands and knees,

Man is awake and does and sees-

But Heaven has done and gone.

 

For who shall guess the good riddle

Or speak of the Holiest,

Save in faint figures and failing words,

Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,

Labours, and is at rest?

 

But some see God like Guthrum,

Crowned, with a great beard curled,

But I see God like a good giant,

That, laboring, lifts the world.

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The Good Riddle GK Chesterton

I am continuing my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Lancia Smith. You can enjoy these and more on her Excellent Website Cultivating the True the Good and the Beautiful.

In today’s poem, which is an extract from GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the white Horse I am continuing yesterday’s theme; the paradox that the God who is rightly our Lord and Master, comes to us, out of his sheer love, as a servant. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.

From the Ballad of the White Horse

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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.

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A Website Revamp (and cheese…)

poets curdle words until they bite

poets curdle words until they bite

This is just to let you know that I have had a little go at simplifying and improving this website. The blog works just as it always did and still gives you new poems and a searchable archive of all the old ones, together with recordings of them all. You can now use the tabs above to navigate to the Books Events and Home pages which have all been updated. There is a new page (also clickable on the tabs above called ‘Interviews‘ which gathers in one place links to various interviews I have given about my work, life and faith, particularly to the sequence of interviews on Lancia Smith’s excellent website Cultivating The True The Good and the Beautiful.

The other new thing is that I now have a dedicated email address for any enquiries about readings, lectures or performances, which is malcolmguite@gmail.com and can be found permanently on the Home Page. I hope these simplifications and improvements will be helpful.

In other news, here is a poem about cheese (and poetry)! As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

‘The Poets Have Been Mysteriously Silent About Cheese’ GK Chesterton

 

Poets have been silent about cheese

Because whilst every  subject is the message,

Cheese is the very medium of their work.

We drink in language with our mothers milk,

But poets curdle words until they bite,

With substance and a flavour of their own:

So Donne is sharp and Geoffrey Hill is sour,

Larkin ascerbic, Tennyson has power

(But only taken late at night with port.)

,I like them all and sample every sort

From creamy Keats with his ‘mossed cottage trees’,

Tasting the words themselves like cottage cheese,

To Eliot, difficult, in cold collations,

Crumbling, and stuffed with other folk’s quotations.

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Smoke Rings From My Pipe

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe (Photo Lancia Smith)

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe (Photo Lancia Smith)

I have been reading a collection of Ballades by GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and their friends and it prompted this more playful piece of light verse about the pleasures of smoking my pipe and composing verse in the ‘Temple of Peace’, my trysting place with the muse. I have slightly tweaked the Ballade form by playing variations on the repeating line rather than simply repeating it verbatim. You can hear the poem, as usual, by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. The atmospheric photo is by the wonderful photographer Lancia Smith. I hope you all enjoy this, it goes out particularly to my generous friend Jerry Root who gave me one of the most beautiful pipes I possess.

Smoke Rings From My Pipe

All the long day’s weariness is done

I’m free at last to do just as I will

Take out my pipe, admire the setting sun

Practice the art of simply sitting still

Thank God I have this briar bowl to fill,

I leave the world with all its hopeless hype,

Its pressures, and its ever-ringing till,

And let it go in smoke rings from my pipe

 

The hustle and the bustle, these I shun

The tasks that trouble and the cares that kill,

The false idea that there’s a race to run,

The pushing of that weary stone uphill,

The wretched i-phone’s all-insistent trill,

Whingers and whiners, each with their own gripe,

I pack them in tobacco leaves until

They’re blown away in smoke rings from my pipe

 

And then at last my real work is begun,

My chance to chant, to exercise the skill

Of summoning the muses, one by one,

To meet me in their temple, touch my quill

( I have a pen but quills are better still)

And when the soul is full, the time is ripe

Kindle the fire of poetry that will

Breathe and expand like smoke-rings from my pipe

 

Prince I have done with grinding at the mill,

These petty-pelting tyrants aren’t my type,

So lift me up and set me on a hill,

A free man blowing smoke rings from his pipe.

 

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Word In the Wilderness: 3rd Temptation

Temptation

Temptation

Here is my reflection and poem on Christ’s third temptation from my new book The Word in the Wilderness:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time’ (Luke 4.9−3).

If the first two temptations in the wilderness were in some sense ‘obvious’; the temptation to mere physical satisfaction of appetite, and the temptation to worldly success and power, then the third temptation is subtle and dark, all the darker for pretending to a kind of light, or enlightenment. The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the Temple’ on the height of religious experience and achievement. What could be wrong with that? But the best things, turned bad, are the worst things of all. A ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ life can be riddled with pride and a sense of distinction, judging or looking down on others, despising God’s good creation! Such a twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people. One of G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful Father Brown stories, ‘The Hammer of God’, explores this theme with his usual combination of acuity and humour. In the story a curate who has constantly taken to ‘praying, not on the common church floor with his fellow men, but on the dizzying heights of its spires’ is tempted to deal justice to his sinful brother by flinging a hammer down on him from the heights. It is Father Brown who sees and understands the temptation and brings the curate down from the heights to a proper place of repentance. Here’s a fragment of their dialogue before they descend:

 

‘I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray,’ said Father Brown. ‘Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.’

‘Do you mean that one may fall over?’ asked Wilfred.

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest …

After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the plain with his pale grey eyes. ‘I knew a man,’ he said, ‘who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.’

Wilfred’s face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.

‘He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had been kneeling with other men upon a floor.’

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest.

 

I was remembering something of this story when I wrote my sonnet on the third temptation, but thanks be to God that in resisting this temptation to spiritual loftiness and display, Jesus shows his solidarity once and for all with all of us, trusting himself to our flesh and blood so that we can trust our flesh and blood to him. He does not look down on us but looks up with the humble eyes of the child of Bethlehem.

WhenThe image above is from a sketch book of the painter  Adam Boulter who sent me this haunting sketch of two figures looking down at Petra ‘from the high place of sacrifice’ (as he added in a marginal note) who sent me this sketch when we were working together on the In the Wilderness Exhibition for Westminster Abbey.

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent

Temptation in the wilderness

 

‘Temples and Spires are good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection,

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here,

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

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Chesterton and Belloc: A Little Christmas Holiday Listening

In our house we keep the twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas day to Twelfth Night. The Christmas holidays are a time when I tend to take old favourite books of the shelf, get comfortable in an armchair and re-read and savour familiar passages as much for their familiarity as anything else. In particular I like to savour seasonal favourites, so I have been re-reading some short pieces on Christmas by GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Some of these I have read aloud onto podcast and audioboo sites, so I thought I’d gather up the links and share them again with readers of this blog. First up is GK Chesterton’s wonderful little piece ‘The Shop of Ghosts; a good dream’, which I had the pleasure of reading aloud last year with my friends Jerry and Claudia Root and Pat and Den Conneen. Then, in three short parts,  I have posted some readings from ‘A Remaining Christmas’, Hilaire Belloc’s wonderfully partial account of how he kept Christmas at Kingsland, his beloved old house in Sussex. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed reading them.

The Shop of Ghosts by GK Chesterton

A Remaining Christmas by Hilaire Belloc part 1

A Remaining christmas Pt 2

A Remaining christmas pt 3

Belloc at his beloved Kingsland (Nice Pipe!)

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