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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s corner

20 October 2017

Malcolm Guite is drawn to a guild’s emblem

YESTERDAY, I stepped from the noise and hurry of Fleet Street, its rushing cars, the un­­relenting modernity of its steel and glass offices, and its stream of anxious, over-driven office workers, into the cool, beautiful in­­terior, the space, grace, and calm of St Bride’s.

It was as though I’d stepped into an oasis.

I was there to read my sonnet on the parable of the sower at a harvest thanksgiving.

Why St Bride’s? The journalists’ church is surely more associated with the pen than the plough. But this was the harvest service of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

I was delighted to know that such a guild exists, and flourishes, for soon the church began to fill with a great throng of people whose care is to write about, and for, farmers, those for whom harvest is more than a quaint occasion for di­­splay­ing one’s apple-arranging skills.

It was clear from the sermon and prayers, and from the speeches at the lunch afterwards, that this was a guild of people deeply aware of the wider world around them, informed and concerned about global poverty, climate change, and the need for a renewed way of living on and with the land, reducing waste, recycling, moving towards a circular economy.

But what struck me most was their emblem, embossed on the order of service: a golden quill and a golden ear of wheat, crossed on a green ground. Obviously, it was well suited to their particular avocation, but it seemed to me that it was an apt emblem of my own vocation, too. From Homer to Heaney, poets have sensed a kinship between the lines of their verse and the long furrows opened by the plough: “Each verse returning like the plough turned round.”

Poets know that their art also involves the sowing of seeds, the patient wait for growth,
the need to weed out the extraneous, the art of discerning when a poem, like a crop, is ripe and ready.

But the guild’s lovely emblem might be even more apt for the Christian poet. I remem­­bered something that Micheal O’Siadhail once said when he was asked whether, as a Christian poet, he thought that his poems might sow the gospel seed.

“Oh, goodness, no,” he replied. “In that parable, it is Christ who is both the sower and the seed. But I do notice how much attention Jesus pays to the soil itself, to whether and where the ground is good, and what makes it so. Just as I turn over my garden soil and shake it in a griddle to make it more kindly to the seed, so I hope that poetry might jostle the soil of the imagination, so that, when the sower goes out to sow, the seed might fall on good ground.”

His words were in my mind as I let the last words of my own sonnet sound out through St Bride’s:


O break me open, Jesus, set me free,
Then find and keep your own good ground in me.

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