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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

15 March 2024

The slogan on his beer glass prompts Malcolm Guite to not stare, but gaze

“STOP staring . . . start gazing. . .” I read this sage advice printed on the side of my beer glass as I was downing a pint of Moon Gazer’s “Jumper” ale. I suppose that I was just staring idly at my glass, but the teasing slogan stirred me to contemplate hares, and stares, and gazes. Moon Gazer’s logo is, unsurprisingly, a hare gazing at the moon, as hares are thought to do, especially in March, when, like some of us, they go a little mad. Indeed, “Jumper”, the ale thatI happened to be drinking, is named after the habit that mad march hares have of jumping suddenly, and indeed running at shadows, skittishly boxing one another, and gazing at the moon.

It is not just a Norfolk brewery that celebrates the dancing, jumping, shadow-boxing moon-gazing hare. The Broads Authority has a whole web page about them, which tells you that the best places to spot them are “the fields and paths leading to St Benet’s Abbey”, the old Benedictine ruin that I sometimes visit by boat. There are even statues of moon-gazing hares scattered around Norfolk. These statues, known as the “GoGo Hares”, were originally set up as temporary exhibits by the charity Break, as part of their work with children; but people liked them so much that they were bought by local authorities and became permanent features.

My own little town of North Walsham has a very fine example, Lepus (appropriately enough, as that is the hare’s Latin name). It sits on its haunches, nose pointing skyward, ears laid neatly back on its head, its body decorated with brightly painted astrological signs, moongazing.

The statue is set up, appropriately enough, just outside the Hop Inn. There was some fear that it would be removed as part of a town-centre refurbishment, but locals made it clear that they wanted the hare to stay. Why had they grown so fond of it? Perhaps because their children loved it, which was the charity’s first intention. Perhaps because its attitude of rapt contemplation stirs something deep in an over-hurried, over-anxious populace. W. H. Davies’s couplet “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare” (“Leisure”) comes to mind.

But Lepus does something more than stare: he gazes blissfully upwards. He may be just to the side of the Hop Inn, but he also stands in front of another important building. For behind him, on a rise of ground, with inviting steps leading you up, stands the parish church of St Nicholas’s, where generations have learned to “stop staring and start gazing”.

A stare might be hostile, it might be rude, it might be oppressive or inquisitorial; but a gaze always carries something of rapture, something of the transcendent; for shimmering behind every fleeting glimpse of the divine is the beauty of the beatific vision, calling us, upstream of every individually beautiful sight — including the moon in March — to come, at last, to the source of beauty itself.

Coming out from church, and wandering down past Lepus, our contemplative hare, I might be inclined to whisper into his sleek ears, the last verse of our hymn:

Father of Jesus, Love divine,
What rapture it will be,
Prostrate before thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on thee!

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