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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

05 March 2021

As he crosses the Lady Bridge, Malcolm Guite encounters something to ponder

EVERY day, I cross over the Lady Bridge, which spans the stream of the Granta, and leads up to the Church of St Mary the Virgin; and I always pause on it to draw breath, to contemplate, to stand suspended for a moment above the flow of the stream, the flow of time, and to gaze down a little into the fascinating curls and swirls, the ripples of the purling and turning stream.

But, in these past few weeks, I’ve had something else to gaze at and ponder, and that is the growing length, and evolving complexity, of the Linton Snake. I’m happy to say that this is not an actual snake, or even a mythical and heraldic snake — an archetypal Serpent, come to challenge the archetypal Lady.

No, it is a beautiful collection of painted stones, growing every day, and placed there in a lengthening line by the children of the village. It started with just one or two pebbles, picked up, perhaps, from the banks of the stream, taken home and painted in bright colours and patterns, and placed, whimsically, side by side against the little parapet on the edge of the bridge. But soon more and more were added, and, at their head, a white stone that bore the legend, painted in different colours and decorated with dots and flowers:

Linton Snake

Please add
Don’t take 

The children of the village took the hint, and, every day, more colourful brightly painted stones have been added, and now the snake winds its way happily right across the bridge and stretches out a little on both sides.

The variety is wonderful, but what is most remarkable, in these dark days, when the children themselves must also be under some considerable stress, is the sheer vibrancy and joy of what they have created.

Let me try and give you a flavour. One little pebble painted entirely in black and gold stripes is a smiling bee, and another, in red and bold black dots, but also with its smiling face, is a little ladybird. There are flowers of every kind: daisies and roses and daffodils, all beaming out in bright paint from their stones. There’s a naturally heart-shaped stone, now a mystical red heart with a labyrinth leading into its mysterious centre.

There’s a very good portrait of a smiling Captain Tom giving a thumbs-up. The letters NHS are emblazoned, boldly, heraldically, in many colours on many of the stones. There are rainbows, there are people holding hands, there are miniature landscapes and sunrises, there are portraits of the ducks on the stream, and, peeking out from beneath the green weeds and moss at the base of the stone wall by the bridge, there is a smooth, round, bright blue pebble that simply says “Joy!”

malcolm guitemalcolm guite

It’s wonderful to think of all the time and care and attention that’s been lavished on these simple common things, stones picked up from the side of the brook, to transfigure them into something beautiful, something weighted with meaning and carrying a message of hope. It’s wonderful to think of the trust, the sense of community, that places them there, open and unguarded for all of us to enjoy.

And, musing on the bridge there, I thought of that other young boy who “chose him five smooth stones from out of the brook and put them in his shepherd’s bag”, that he might do a mighty deed with them. And it seemed to me that our village children, with their brightly painted pebbles, were, in their own way, slaying another Goliath, the giant Despair, defeating him on our behalf.

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