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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

12 June 2020

Malcolm Guite delights in his favourite form of exercise

IT IS a blessing to be allowed out for exercise more than once a day. Since my favourite, and sometimes only, exercise is walking, it means that I need no longer choose between favourite walks, but can indulge them all.

My first and (comparatively) early-morning walk takes me along the banks of the Granta, where it meanders and plays between the village green and “kingfisher walk”, a path that is occasionally lit by the electric blue of an actual kingfisher flashing across the river. Eventually, I come to a simple wooden bridge, on which I can stand poised above the river and simply gaze. The stream ripples swiftly over shallow gravel beds under the bridge itself, but, if one lifts one’s eyes a little further upstream, there is a wider, deeper pool that holds the reflections of the lush green trees on either bank, in which many birds are singing and between which they occasionally dart, almost skimming into the symmetry of their own reflections.

I love the way the calm of that slightly deeper pool transmutes into the quicker rippling of the stream below my feet, and then, behind me, pours into another calmer, deeper pool. And I love the way, on the bridge itself, I feel poised, as one does in any moment of contemplation, above the stream of time, with its own pools and eddies, its own alternations of stillness and movement, of calm and hurry.

Another kind of “exercise” sometimes accompanies these walks; for I occasionally recite a psalm under my breath, and, on this particular walk, when I pause on the bridge where the trees arch over the water, it is often the first psalm, with its mention of the man who will “exercise himself day and night” in the Torah, followed by the lucid image: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside: that will bring forth his fruit in due season.”

In fact, that lovely glade by the river in Little Linton has become the “local habitation” in my mind for this beautiful opening of the psalter. So, when I decided to take up the new, less physically strenuous “lockdown exercise” of composing a series of verse responses to the psalms, I found my opening poem was really a celebration of this quiet place where I have discerned “Heaven in ordinary”:

 

 

Beatus vir

Come to the place, where every breath is praise,
And God is breathing through each passing breeze.
Be planted by the waterside and raise

Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,
Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.
Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,

Open alike to sun and rain. Arise
From meditation by these waters. Bear
The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise

In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share
The secret of their patience. Pass the day
In their green fastness and their quiet air.

Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,
Where simple being flowers in delight.
Then let the chaff of life just blow away.

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