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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

05 February 2021

Malcolm Guite imagines himself in Andrew Marvell’s garden

IT IS not yet the weather for sitting at leisure in my garden; so I do it vicariously, from the comfort of my study, by rereading Andrew Marvell’s classic poem “The Garden”, imagining myself with him “While all flow’rs and all trees do close, To weave the garlands of repose.”

There’s something in the incantatory beat of those short, four-stress rhyming couplets which does, indeed, magically transport the mind:

The mind, that ocean where each kind

Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Though in these long hours, locked down as much by inclement weather as by national regulations, I needn’t fantasise about being anywhere other than my own study; for the society of my books, and the pleasures of a pipe and a pint, can “make one little room an everywhere” (as Donne said of a rather different set of pleasures). At any rate, it is, paradoxically, a way of defying loneliness to embrace and make the most of it, and say with Marvell: “Society is all but rude, To this delicious solitude.”

So, on a rainy afternoon, I lit up my old Peterson “Sherlock Holmes” pipe and mused that, since the great detective enjoyed a “three-pipe problem”, I might enjoy composing a “three-pipe poem”. I found, as I did so, that Marvell’s metre had set the poem’s pace, and that a stanza of Betjeman’s had given the poem form; so it turns out that I wasn’t so alone after all, for some fine poets were keeping me company and lending a hand, and the poem was finished well before the third pipe!


A Three Pipe Poem

And so my solitude resumes,
I settle down to light my pipe
And fill the air with fragrant fumes
And muse awhile, till I am ripe
With mellowed verse, and empty time
Is ready to be filled with rhyme.

Ranged on my shelves in patient print
The poets keep me company:
One phrase of theirs might be the hint,
The prompt for some new harmony;
Their echoes in my mind repeat
And their old metres keep the beat.

For in my mind their minstrelsy
Is somehow kindled and renewed,
As Andrew Marvell stands with me
In my “delicious solitude”,
I smoke a pipe with Tennyson
And Larkin nods to Betjeman.

Their echoes in my mind repeat,
Their cadences enrich my soul,
Call me to capture, to complete,
To make my broken verses whole,
To draw their courses where they run
And mould the many into one.

So help me, my old Peterson,
And let your incense still inspire,
Smoke sweetly till my task is done,
Your bowl aglow with friendly fire,
Until I bring, in true repose,
My three-pipe poem to a close.


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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