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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

10 March 2023

Inspired by Jesus’s words to Peter, Malcolm Guite prepares to launch his boat on the Broads

“LAUNCH out into the deep.” I love these words of Jesus to Peter. Having turned Peter’s boat into a makeshift pulpit for a while, Jesus turns to his new friend and says, as it were, “Now for the adventure of a lifetime — launch out into the deep!” I love these words as much for what they mean literally as for all that they mean symbolically.

I have always loved boats, and, when I was a little boy and was read the stories of Jesus from an illustrated Bible, I was very fond of the picture that went with this one. A shoreside scene: the people gathered, the fishing nets piled and drying at the side, one or two other fishing boats bobbing in the offing, and, in the centre, full of glorious detail, Peter’s boat, with Jesus on board.

It was a magnificent double-ender, carvel built and beautifully fared, with a high prow and a strong-looking stern post. Jesus stood beneath its single mast, and, above it, a cross spar still with its furled sail suggested the adventures still to come — and, had I eyes to see it, foreshadowed the cross. Even when my parents could not be persuaded to read the story again, I used to ask for the book, so that I could keep gazing at the picture and take it all in.

So, I was thrilled when it was reported, in early 1986, that just such a boat, dating from the first century, had been discovered, comparatively well preserved, in the muddy lakebed of Galilee. I was all the more thrilled because that was the year when Maggie and I visited the Holy Land, and we saw the excavations: the dark ribs and planking of a vessel just the size and shape of the one that I had seen in my children’s Bible. They had made a little model of how it would look once it was restored, and it was all just as I had imagined.

It was all there in my mind, too, when I wrote the opening quatrain of my sonnet on the call of the disciples:

He calls us all to step aboard his ship,

Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,
Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,
Whatever storms or floods are threatening.

The phrase “launch out into the deep” has been stirring again in my mind for the more secular reason that, with the first tentative signs of spring, now February is past, my mind, like the mind of any sailor, has turned to finding the right day to launch my boat — to get her out from her winter sleep under tarpaulins in the barn of a genial farmer in Repps, and get her afloat again and down to her moorings at Ranworth. There will be preparations first, of course: a spring clean, a little varnishing, going through all her rigging, checking that everything is shipshape, and then waiting for the right day, with wind and weather set fair.

Naturally, there will be a prayer of blessing, too, and something to drink for captain and crew, on the day.

In my case, Jesus won’t be telling me to launch out into the deep, as most of the Broads are shallow enough to stand in; but, in faith, I’ll still have Jesus on board with me, just as Peter did.

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