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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

18 April 2019

Malcolm Guite recalls a walk he took one Holy Saturday

HOLY Saturday is a strange, in-between day. I’ve heard it described as the day we all hold our breath, poised between the grief of Good Friday and the hope of Easter.

But I think it would be truer to say that it is the day when heaven holds our breath. For, on Good Friday, we see Christ, the second Adam, breathing his last breath, and ours, and entrusting it to heaven for safe-keeping. And that breath is held in heaven till he releases it afresh and renews us on Easter Day, when he breathes on us and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. But, over the waiting space of Holy Saturday, there is a breathless hush.

We have our activities, of course: the children coming to make Easter gardens, while others decorate the church; and, for the more disorganised among us, there is the sudden realisation that there are still Easter eggs to buy.

I always try to find time, though, somewhere on that day, for a decent walk. Likely as not, the weather has been rainy, and I soon find my feet stuck in the miry clay, something pulling me earthward even as the birds sing overhead.

On Holy Saturday a couple of years ago, I headed into the woods with the dogs, seeking to clear my mind after an exhausting and exacting few weeks of life and ministry. I set out feeling burdened, feeling that I scarcely had the imaginative energy left to participate in this great re-enactment and celebration of the drama of our salvation.

For some reason, as a tinny and annoying background to more melancholy thoughts, I had Mott The Hoople’s catchy 1973 hit “Roll Away The Stone” running round in my head. It is not a great work of art. Indeed, some might say that they had no business borrowing a gospel image to boost the chorus of a cheesy chat-up song, replete with lines like “We still got a chance Baby in love and sweet romance”.

And yet, in spite of that, as I emerged from the thick of thickets, both outer and inner, and sensed the growing light behind grey clouds, on that tired Holy Saturday, the mystery of Easter opened up to me again, and even Mott The Hoople’s little chorus was lifted into meaning.

I went home and composed, in the last light of Saturday, a villanelle for Sunday:

As though some heavy stone were rolled away,
You find an open door where all was closed,
Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.

Lost in your own dark wood, alone, astray,
You pause, as though some secret were disclosed,
As though some heavy stone were rolled away. 

You glimpse the sky above you, wan and grey,
Wide through these shadowed branches interposed,
Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day. 

Perhaps there’s light enough to find your way,
For now the tangled wood feels less enclosed,
As though some heavy stone were rolled away. 

You lift your feet out of the miry clay
And seek the light in which you once reposed,
Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day. 

And then Love calls your name, you hear Him say:
The way is open, death has been deposed,
As though some heavy stone were rolled away,
And you are free at last on Easter Day.


A villanelle for Easter Day

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