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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s corner

13 October 2017

Autumn winds stir the leaves and Malcolm Guite’s memories

AS AUTUMN deepens from September into October, it makes a transition from Keats to Shelley: from the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” to the “wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being”; from the “half-reap’d furrow . . . Drows’d with the fume of poppies”, to the leaves


. . . driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red. . .


The sound of wind in the trees always stirs me, and the beauty of the leaves themselves, as lovely when they fall as when they stay, is always a revelation.

The new term here moves me, too, and drew from me the opening of my Michaelmas sonnet in Sounding the Seasons:


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.


Such stripping away is always clarifying, always a call to renewal. As autumn reveals the underlying pattern of bare branches, once veiled in summer green, it also reveals other patterns: the roots and branches of a faith that stays when our other flourishings fade and fail.

If there is a beauty in the leaves as they fly and fall, there is a beauty, too, in the new patterns that they make when they come to rest; when they are layered and, in every sense, interleaved, overlaying one another like the layers of memory as they gather and deepen, season by season.

From my window in college, I can see this year’s freshers scrunching through the leaves with new-found friends, or setting off on their cycles against the freshening wind, their hair (and occasionally stray leaves of their essays) streaming out behind them, and I remember my own time as a fresher here — though the layers and leaves of memory between that time and this lie 40 autumns thick.

I still have some lines that I wrote back then, in a poem about leave-taking. I read them now as a note from my 20-year-old self to the man turning 60, about what he will remember:


And if you leave, I leave, you leave me these
These leaves of memory so thickly falling,
Flame-coloured, floating slowly from the trees
Through dappled light and into shadows drifting,
Becoming earth, decaying by degrees
To loam-deep stillness we will keep at parting.


There is this difference, though, between my remembering then and now; for now I have a faith that memory is not only about parting. Now, I know that there is a kind of remembering which is, in every sense, re-membering: putting back together the lost and broken — a remembering that is not about loss and absence, but about renewal and presence.

And, as I make my way through this year’s fallen leaves to the chapel where I will celebrate the eucharist, I know that, together with the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, it will also be all my own remembering that I do in remembrance of Him, and offer back for redemption and renewal.

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