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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

14 September 2018

Malcolm Guite craves some time in his writing hut

“I MUST go down to the shed again,” I found myself sighing. Somehow, my loftily named Temple of Peace, the little writing-hut which I have described in an earlier Poet’s Corner (13 July), has ended up being referred to simply as “The Shed”, or occasionally with more dignity, “The Hut”. And, somehow, “life, the universe, and everything” had been getting in the way, and I hadn’t been down there for more than a week.

I realise that these instalments of Poet’s Corner may sometimes give the impression that most of my life is spent musing in the quiet nooks of cathedral cities, walking my dogs in beautiful bluebell woods, and composing sonnets in the Temple of Peace.

I only wish it were. Poet’s Corner is testament to many delightful interludes, but, as in the building of any life, there are, in between the corners, some long dull walls of drudgery and duty, and, cluttering all one’s living space, the usual stress-laden accumulation of unanswered emails, insoluble pastoral problems, and pressing deadlines.

It is easy for poetry to get squeezed out, and that’s why I sighed and said aloud, to no one in particular, “I must go down to the shed again.” But, even as I did so, I had a distinct memory of my father, as hard-pressed in his day as I am in mine, conscientiously dealing with his correspondence, but sighing, and saying with a far away look in his eyes:

I must go down to the seas again, the lonely sea and the sky.

And, if my mother was there and heard him say it, she would immediately join in and say the next lines with him:

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

And together they would chant the rest of the verse, to my amusement and amazement:

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I sometimes think that just reciting John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” did them almost as much good as sailing itself, although happily we all enjoyed some real sailing, too, and that was the time when my father was really relaxed and happy, when he took us down to our little boat, The Amaranth, and we cast off, and hoisted sail.

That memory made me take my own sighing a little more seriously; so I closed the laptop, put down the iPhone, and headed for the shed. Perhaps the shade of Masefield himself was following me, with my mother’s well-worn copy of Salt-Water Ballads; for, even as I closed the door, settled into my chair, and opened up my manuscript book, I found this little verse had formed in my mind, I suppose I had better call it “Shed Fever”:

I must go down to the shed again, the lonely shed and the den,
And all I ask is a kindly muse, and a hand to guide my pen,
And the verse- kick, and the vowel-song, and the words, warm and willing,
And a quiet time, and a full rhyme, and the white page filling.

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