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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

06 May 2022

The psalter speaks to Malcom Guite as he looks up to the new moon

AFTER the glorious full moon that, sailing majestically above the West Yorkshire moors, shone for our Easter, and which I watched in awe, we have come, in the first days of May, to the new moon again.

Home at last, I glimpse her silver crescent above the little town of North Walsham. There is something magical, something hopeful, in the gradually opening crescent of the new moon, the sliver of shining silver that so often glimmers in Samuel Palmer’s mysterious and luminous paintings; and, when I glimpse her, especially through trees or reflected in water, I feel that something lovely, something unearthly, is about to happen.

So, I am glad that some serendipity has also brought me in my psalter to Psalm 81: “Blow up the trumpet in the new-moon: even in the time appointed, and upon our solemn feast-day.”

After the sorrow and lamentation expressed in Psalms 79 and 80, Psalm 81 comes as a beautiful moment of uplift, with the sound of trumpets and the clear shining beauty of the new moon. Then, that psalm turns and looks back to all that God has done for Israel in the past, how he had “eased their shoulder from the burden”, and that renewed memory of grace gives the psalmist confidence for the future.

Looking up at the new moon now, after a day in which every news bulletin and every conversation seemed to turn on the darkness of the present time, the fear that the war in Ukraine, dreadful as it already is, might spread more widely, I found myself not only returning to that psalm, but also remembering how my response to it in David’s Crown — a response written amid the fear and weariness of the first awful waves of Covid before the vaccine — also looked up towards the growing clarity of the new moon shining high above our passing troubles, as a symbol of hope, and looked back at what God has already done for us.

I wrote it then as a prayer to Christ, recalling all he achieved for us at Easter, and praying for encouragement and a sign amidst our troubles. I pray it even more fervently now:

Psalm 81: Exultate Deo

Till shadows flee at last, and sorrows cease
Come down and ease our shoulders from the burden
To give our straining hearts some soft release,

Lest from sheer weariness they shrink and harden.
Refresh us with the memory of grace,
Remind us of your mercy, of that pardon

You won for us forever from the cross.
Then we will lift a lighter song to you
And glimpse beyond our loneliness and loss

The lovely new moon shining, and the true
Signs of the kingdom coming, where they gleam
And kindle in the east, still showing through

This present darkness, even as a dream
Of light before the dawn. Send us a sign
That things are not so hopeless as they seem.

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