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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

26 August 2022

Out walking on a warm night, Malcolm Guite is struck by the moon’s beauty

LIKE many folk who’ve been kept awake a little later than is their wont by these warm nights, I have been drawn by the light and beauty of the moon, and especially the “super moon” that we had recently. Sleepless, I walked out into the balmy night, and there she was — closer it seemed, and closer indeed, to the earth. Her silver seemed somehow warmed with a golden tinge, as if more of the sun’s gold itself were held and reflected from her, and she was brighter than I had known, brighter than the few streetlights that sought to rival her.

Gazing on that moon inevitably called to mind the other times when I have stood looking at her, and also gave me a kind of fellowship with all who might be gazing on her now: a prisoner watching her move between the bars of a cell’s window; parted lovers gazing upon her at an agreed time, as though her light might heal their separation; some lone sailor, like Coleridge’s Mariner, who “yearneth towards the journeying Moon”.

The moon that I saw was waxing still, but almost at the full, and the sky in which she shone was almost cloudless, but she made me think of a passage that I half-remembered from Belloc’s book The Four Men, about the time they see the moon together; although, as we discover, they are not four separate men at all, but four aspects of Belloc himself as he walks companionably with himself back into the Sussex of his childhood.

When I came back into the house, I looked up the passage: “The sky was already of an apple green to the westward, and in the eastern blue there were stars. There also shone what had not yet appeared upon that windless day, a few small wintry clouds, neat and defined in heaven. Above them the moon, past her first quarter but not yet full, was no longer pale, but began to make a cold glory; and all that valley of Adur was a great and solemn sight to see as we went forward upon our adventure that led nowhere and away. . . All four of us together received the sacrament of that wide and silent beauty, and we ourselves went in silence to receive it.”

Re-reading this passage on that moonlit night, I became aware that I owed Belloc an unacknowledged debt; for, earlier this year, working on my new Arthurian poems, in ballad form with “skipping reels of rhyme”, I was writing about the night vigil of Dindrane, the Grail Maiden who will eventually guide the knights on their quest. I realise now that my verse must have been informed unconsciously by some memory of Belloc’s suggestive phrase “the sacrament of that wide and silent beauty”; for this is what I wrote:

By night she kept pure vigil there

And morning came too soon
For she would see the stars wheel by
And hear their music from on high
And feel their influence and cry
In ecstasy, when she’d descry
A sphere of silver light draw nigh,
Then she would lift her eyes and spy
Above the valley’s chalice high:
The wafer of the moon.

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