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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

29 January 2021

On his daily walk, Malcolm Guite finds unexpected comfort in bad weather

THERE is something comforting about bad weather. I don’t just mean that there’s a delicious pleasure to be had in the sound of rain falling heavily on your roof, when you are safe inside with a mug of warm cocoa, or when the flaws and freaks of wind with their wild wuthering seem to make your hearth-fire burn brighter — although those are, indeed, comforting moments.

No, I mean the weather itself: the suddenness in the way it comes, and the relief and reassurance in the way it goes. Every morning before breakfast, come rain or shine, I walk for a couple of miles along the vale of the Granta out to Little Linton on one side of the river, over the little wooden bridge where I stood and composed the first of my psalm poems, and back up a green lane and along a path between two fields, where some hardy old horses enjoy or endure the weather, just as my dogs and I do.

We all have our own animal responses to the weather: snuffing the fresh wind in the sun and feeling its exhilaration on good days, bracing ourselves with heads down and collars up when it’s suddenly bleak and sleety.

When the weather so swiftly changes for the worse, the valley itself is transformed: the river that sparkled moments ago runs dark and sullen, the wind that once enticed now nips and bites and resists, and all that was delightful becomes daunting.

Why does that comfort me? Because it makes me feel that I am not alone in my own sudden swings of mood and feeling: it gives me the outward and visible images whereby I have some expression — and, therefore, some grip — on my own internal weather.

Heaven knows, this long third lockdown, coming as it has in stark January and frozen February, has visited on most of us its own internal storms. It’s not just our little valley that has sometimes flooded, but there have also understandably been unexpected floods of tears. Sometimes, on the very path that I walked so smoothly yesterday, I find myself bogged down and stuck in mud; so, likewise, routines and necessary labours that seemed easy to get through on Thursday prove almost impossible to cope with on Friday.

Why is that a comfort? Because, somehow, the valley’s sudden change of mood not only reflects and expresses my own, but gives it licence and precedent: if it’s good enough for the Granta to be sometimes sullen and sodden, then maybe its good enough for Guite. And the deepest comfort is that, if the valley can get through its weather, then so can I.

And, when the sun returns, as it always does, and the winds dry out the mud; when the river resumes its wonted banks, and my outward path is clear again — then I know that the inner weather will also change, and the paths of the spirit will clear and become a joy once more, not just a challenge.

I felt that today, setting out with grim determination through the sleet, only to find that, halfway through my walk, even as I stood on that favourite little bridge, some shaft of sunlight, not yet fallen on me, had flung out the great arc of a rainbow, whose end seemed to be descending on my own little house. I continued my journey musing on the words of that lovely hymn:

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.


Online book launch: David’s Crown: An evening with Malcolm Guite on the Psalms, 11 February 7 p.m., free, but registration required: churchtimes/co.uk/events.

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