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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

by
21 August 2020

Malcolm Guite rejoices in his daily walks around the fields with plenty of gleanings

THEY have harvested the field of wheat alongside which I walk every day; for my path lies between the long field and the river. As Tennyson observed in “The Lady of Shalott”, “On either side the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye” — in this instance, fields of wheat.

I have watched it through all its changes: from the sown seed in the dark bare earth — some of it fallen on the pathway and snatched by the birds, through to the first tender shoots of green, and the rich green carpet, at first like grass, but soon growing steady and sturdy, and then, most beautiful of all, the gradual change in this past month, from green to gold. It is that rich gold, brighter under dark skies, of the field ready for harvest, the kind of glowing, numinous gold that Samuel Palmer and, latterly, Roger Wagner have so excelled in painting.

Now, as I walk alongside the field, all that golden grain is harvested. Yet the harvester did not take everything; for all along the field side-path are many heads of grain still on their stalks: good gleaning for anyone who needs them. I pick up a golden stalk and rub it in my hands, the chaff falling easily from the grain and blowing away. I feel as though I had the whole gospel, with all its long reach back into earlier scripture, lying open in the palm of my hand.

Here are just such field-edge gleanings as Boaz left for Ruth that she might, in Seamus Heaney’s phrase, “glean the unsaid off the palpable” and understand her welcome, and that, together, they might begin that line of descent which led down to David and beyond. And so they first made sacred the little town of Bethlehem, so that, in Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, the Bread of Life might be born.

And here in my hand were just such “heads of grain” as Jesus and his disciples once plucked on a sabbath to stave off hunger, citing David as their precedent; such a grain of wheat as Jesus, looking at his disciples, might have let fall to the ground through his fingers when he spoke of his coming Passion, saying: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

And here, as I let the grains fall through my fingers back to the good earth, was the golden field all harvested, already gathered into barns, a sign of that final fruition, that harvest-home at the end of time which will begin our true life and such rejoicing as every harvest feast faintly anticipates.

I am glad of these continuities in seed-time and harvest, and glad to see the bread of life golden in the field before it is wrapped in plastic in the shops. And I am glad to live in a place where my daily walks can give me little insights — small gleanings, perhaps — of all the richer meanings embedded in the language of scripture when it is also the language of nature.

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