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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

05 May 2023

During spring-like weather, Malcolm Guite’s fountain is a source of inspiration

ALTHOUGH it has been a chilly April, it has occasionally been spring-like enough to tempt me out of my snug upstairs study and down to the Temple of Peace, my little writing hut in the garden. Indeed, when the sun has been briefly out and the winds have dropped sufficiently, I’ve even been tempted to bring a chair out of the hut and sit on my small patio of Norfolk pamments (17 March) to enjoy the garden and, in particular, my little solar-powered fountain.

It takes the form of a “stone” lion’s face on a wall, from whose mouth water pours into a bowl below, and, from that, into another — whence, of course, it discreetly disappears into the interior of the fountain, there to be lifted by the submerged electric pump back up behind the lion’s mouth, ready to be poured back out from those leonine lips into the spring sunlight, and fall with a pleasing plash into the bowl again.

Of course, I pretend to myself not to know about any of these internal arrangements, so that, just occasionally, as the water pours tirelessly, clear and shining in the spring sunshine, with its little plash into the bowl below, I can have the sense of some immense aqueduct, some inexhaustible source behind the lion from which the water flows for ever: Dante’s “eternal fountain”, or, closer to our own time, Rilke’s drinking fountain, from his Sonnets to Orpheus, which he invokes with these lines, as they are beautifully translated — or, as he would say, “versioned” — by Don Paterson (Orpheus: A version of Raine Maria Rilke (Faber & Faber, 2006)):

O tireless giver, holy cataract,
conductor of the inexhaustible One —
. . . Behind you, aqueducts

vanish into the distance. . .
they bear the sacred utterance, the words
that arrive forever. . .

to fall into the basin that lies rapt
to your constant murmur. . .

I know that Rilke’s drinking fountain was probably a marble masterpiece in Rome, and my little water-feature is a mass-produced garden ornament in North Walsham; and that its “stone wall” and lion’s face are only moulded resin, and its holy cataract is just the recycled water with which I filled it from my garden tap.

But I am still moved to utter Rilke’s lovely lines to it, when the water flows so clearly and falls so musically, and the mood takes me — just as I call my little writing hut the Temple of Peace, though I also know that it is only a glorified garden shed; for I learned from another poet, years ago, that anywhere and everywhere, we might find “heaven in ordinary”, that every moment might be sacramental.

I am content with the “common or garden”; for it turns out that the common may be, at any moment, transfigured and radiant, and the garden, any garden, may be a part of the garden of Eden — or, better yet, the garden of resurrection.

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