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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

27 October 2017

Hallowe’en is no treat for Malcolm Guite

HALLOWE’EN approaches, and, as always, I have mixed feelings. I was blissfully unaware of this festival until we moved to Canada when I was ten, where Hallowe’en turned out to be quite a big thing. Its weird mixture of creepiness and candy troubled me, but as a ten-year-old boy, I was prepared to put up with the creepiness for the sake of the candy, and went out trick-or-treating with all the rest.

Gradually, though, I found that the quotient of creepiness crept up, or perhaps I had less of a sweet tooth, and I was glad to leave it behind when I returned to England.

At least, I thought I’d left it behind.

For Hallowe’en seems to be creeping up again, creeping up on Christmas in the crass com­mer­cialism stakes, even here where the tradition is less strong. Now I know (though I didn’t then) that Hallowe’en itself simply means the eve of All Hallows, the Christian feast of All Saints, a day when we think particularly of those souls in bliss who, even in this life, kindled a light for us, or to speak more exactly, reflected for us and to us, the already kindled light of Christ.

It’s good that we should have a season of the year for remembrance, a time when we feel that the veil between time and eternity is thin, and we can sense that greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong. I am glad that the Church settled this feast on a time in the turn­ing of the year when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead. The Church kept the day, but it changed the custom.

The greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has already been made by Christ, and if we want to celebrate our loving connections on both sides of the veil we need only now make gifts to the living, as we do in offering sweets to the trick-or-treaters in this season, and, far more profoundly, in exchanging gifts at Christmas.

I lament that both these seasons of hospitality and exchange have been wrenched from their first purpose to sell tinsel and sweeties; so I thought I might redress the balance a little with this sonnet for All Hallows, recalling the light that shines in darkness, who first kindled it, and how the saints reflect it.


Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing
He weaves them with us in the web of being.
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of His wounded love.

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