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David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms, by Malcolm Guite

26 March 2021

Kevin Scully on a poet’s response to the Psalms

THERE is so much to admire in this book: the introductions, the conceit of the project itself, and its execution. Malcolm Guite, among other things, is the Church Times poet-in-residence and with this collection he has set himself a noble task that he accomplishes with aplomb.

The introduction by Paula Gooder provides a concise and navigable course through the waters of human existence, with all its joys, perils, and bereavements that make up the Psalter.

Before this is Guite’s Preface, in which he clearly sets out his task: to provide for each psalm a poem, 15 lines long regardless of the original — two verses in Psalm 117 and 176 for its successor but one; all this in terza rima, divided into five tercets by which he seeks to weave “a corona, a crown or coronet of poems, the last line of each linking the first line of the next, and the last line of the whole sequence linking to the first, thus renewing the circle”. All this is done in a charming publication that limits itself to 150 pages, matching the number of Psalms.

Guite’s verse, mainly in simple language, follows the wide range of issues covered in the original. It is personal, universal, specific, and general. It encapsulates the breadth of human experience, but always through the lens of Christ’s redemptive actions. In these poems, the Messiah is not longed for; his conception, birth, Passion, and resurrection resonate more than thematically, but in content and application to today.

The poet does not hesitate from mentioning events from his own life, his conversion, a brush with death in Ibadan, the blessing of family life, personal security, while challenging himself and others to consider those whose situation is not so fortunate.

On the way, Guite pays homage to other poets — Blake, Donne, Herbert, Hopkins — besides echoing the original structure of Psalms, such as the acrostic in Psalm 119 and the repetitions of 136. The linking lines are not always identical, and some of the rhymes are imperfect, but this does not detract from the quality of the undertaking.

David’s Crown can used in many ways: as a concentrated meditation, a source for dipping into occasionally, or to read alongside the Psalms set for daily prayer.

The Revd Kevin Scully is a poet and retired priest.


David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms
Malcolm Guite
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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