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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

11 June 2021

Malcolm Guite reflects on two great feasts of the Church, and finds joy in both

THERE is something suggestive and fruitful, some intuitive mystery, about the way the two feasts of the Visitation and Corpus Christi sometimes approach closely to one another. Corpus Christi, linked as it is back through Trinity Sunday and Pentecost to Easter itself, is, like them, a moveable feast. So it happens this year that Corpus Christi has fallen just three days after the Visitation. Why do I find that suggestive? I suppose it is because both feasts are about an encounter with hidden presence, both are about kinship and welcome, both about a sudden and unexpected joy, a glad recognition — a kind of leaping in the womb.

When Mary greeted Elizabeth, each of them was carrying in themselves a hidden life, known to them but hidden from the world, and the life that was quickening in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy at the presence of the Lord of Life himself quickening in the womb of Mary. Those who stood without, those who merely gazed on the surfaces, could know nothing of this, but the two women knew intimately in themselves what was happening, and were filled with the Spirit and rejoiced. And, more than that, their joy overflowed in words of poetic prophecy; and, for a moment, the invisible was made audible.

So, too, in the eucharist, Christ himself, the very quick and quickening of life, comes to us, makes his visitation, but likewise veiled beneath another form; and something deep within us responds. Perhaps, like Elizabeth, we all carry a hidden John the Baptist: a wombed forerunner, the prophetic part of our soul, the spirit of discernment.

That part of ourselves is so often silenced and ignored, but in the sacred, concentrated space of the liturgy, it stirs to life; and, more than that, at the approach of the Saviour towards our outstretched hands, it leaps for joy in us.

Perhaps I sensed that, although not as explicitly as I am saying it now, when I came to write “Love’s Choice”, my poem for Corpus Christi in Sounding The Seasons. In my poem in the same series for the Visitation, I had written: “From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.”

When I came to write the poem for Corpus Christi, something made me reach for the word “visitation” to describe the moment of receiving the sacrament: “A little visitation on my tongue.” Perhaps in that year also the two feasts swam close together; I don’t remember. But, re-reading my poem for this year’s Corpus Christi, I sense afresh their kinship:

’s Choice

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how he comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,
To dye himself into experience.

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