*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

15 December 2023

Malcolm Guite returns to Glendalough, in Co. Wicklow, 46 years since his first visit

THERE is a special pleasure in returning to places where one has had some significant encounter or insight — places that, for that reason, have remained vivid in one’s mind.

I had just that pleasure recently when I revisited Glendalough, in Co. Wicklow, a sacred monastic site, dedicated in honour of St Kevin, and a place of pilgrimage since the sixth century. I first ventured there in 1977, as a 19-year-old pilgrim, who had yet to discover the true meaning of his pilgrimage. I was walking slowly round Ireland in my “gap year”, drawn to the island more by a love of literature than by any grasp, as yet, of its deep Christian heritage.

It had been quite a contrast to come to this magical glen with its two beautiful lakes, its round tower, and the ruins of its churches and hermit cells, after all the urbane delights of Dublin. In Dublin, I had been tracing the steps of Leopold Bloom, my worn copy of Ulysses in hand, and reciting Yeats’s “Easter, 1916”, among the “grey eighteenth-century houses”, reflecting on the “terrible beauty” that was born there; but, at Glendalough, I was in another, earlier world.

The sheer beauty of the valley, the sense of its continuity as a place of prayer, moved me, made me want to pray, but, as an agnostic, I didn’t know how or to whom; so, I recited poetry instead: some lines of early Irish verse in translation, which I was carrying with me, hoping that the old hermit-poet’s faith would stand in for my hesitancy:


I wish, O Son of the living God, O ancient,
    eternal King,

For a hidden little hut in the wilderness that
    it may be my dwelling.

An all-grey lithe little lark to be by its side,
A clear pool to wash away sins through the
    grace of the Holy Spirit.


But now, on my return, 46 years later, I could make that prayer my own, and join it for a moment with all the prayer that rises and has risen from that place.

There were only a few other people there; for it was a dark, bitterly cold December day, but three young men appeared from one of the ruins, long-haired and with braided beards, looking for all the world like some of the stone carvings or figures in illuminated manuscripts that I had seen.

They were, in fact, musicians on tour, who had come down from Dublin to touch the earth in a sacred space. We got on well, and exchanged songs and poems, and, a little later, having left them, I walked up near Kevin’s cell, and saw, just on the fringe of the woods, three deer come down to graze and look at me with their gentle eyes. I half wondered whether these were not the three whom I had met before, but transformed, for a while, as in so many Irish stories, into deer.

My companion, a priest in the Church of Ireland, recalled the story of the three strangers who came to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, and we set off back to Dublin, feeling that, in one way or another, we had been blessed by the Trinity.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)