Sarum College Principal James Woodward has reviewed the new book on the Psalms by poet Malcolm Guite, David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms (Canterbury Press 2021). Guite is one of the contributors to the Church Times online poetry day on Saturday 15 May, Send My Roots Rain: A Poetry Retreat.
Sarum College seeks to offer space and learning to nourish the human spirit. As we find our way out of lockdown we shall need time, refreshment, space and (perhaps) words to help us fathom the ambiguities and paradoxes of these days. We are glad to sponsor this event with a wonderful group of creative reflectors – including three of our visiting scholars (Padraig O Tuama, Rachel Mann and Mark Oakley). Do carve out some time for yourself and join us.
As a taster I have had the opportunity to read Malcolm Guite’s new book on the Psalms (David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms, Canterbury Press 2021). Malcolm, with astonishing industry, has written 150 poems in response to the Bible’s 150 psalms as they appear in the Coverdale translation.
Corona (the word we meet in the face of pandemic) is also a word for a crown. This is picked up in the interweaving of a number of signs and symbols on the front cover of the book. The art of the poet is to connect – to find words that name our condition in all its messy hopefulness and longings. These verses struggle to speak into our trauma, our loss and enforced isolation. It must be work in progress that leaves space for incomprehension and the gaps of any attempt to know or understand.
It would be unwise to attempt to capture or comprehend such a corpus of work – that will take time. I hope that I shall be able to share some of these verses with ministry students by way of encouraging a formation that is attentive to the power of words and the need to spend time searching the heart for the right ones. In this process of assimilation and reflection the Psalms may be the medicine we need for the soul. In them much of our life with coronavirus is reflected: incomprehension, rage, pain, wonder yearning, anguish, confusion, wisdom, isolation, ecstasy hope, loss and more.
This volume may well enable its reader to journey inwards in our hope for flourishing. This book needs time to emerge in the connections it can make for its reader – an image, a phrase, a feeling, a word – they hold the promise of connecting with the deep river within us that flows and ebbs in the seasons of our living and dying. The volume understands that the Psalms, of course, were written as songs and not poetry. I hope that we shall hear Malcolm bring some of these words to life by reading them aloud – or even singing them! Many of them are recorded on Malcolm’s blog.
One feature of these verses resonated with my experience of lockdown in Salisbury and it was my re-connection with the world around me and especially the seasons. I noticed the birdsong, the slow movement of the swans on the river, the texture and life of the trees, the smell of grass and soil. This was captured wonderfully in this (Psalm One):
Come to the place, where every breath is praise,
And God is breathing through each passing breeze.
Be planted by the waterside and raise
Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,
Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.
Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,
Open alike to sun and rain. Arise
From meditation by these waters. Bear
The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise
In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share
The secret of their patience. Pass the day
In their green fastness and their quiet air.
There is of course much more – the relationship between self and others; our relationship with time; the very nature of God and providence; the heartbreak of unanswered prayer and the living with much that is unresolved and perhaps will never be?
I find it hard to offer a masterful overview. There remains much that is left undone and even incomprehensible? That is the gift of poetry and the power of this book. Take it and discover what these attentive and skillful offerings may offer as you journey onwards into this year. These verses are language for your heart. Read. Ponder. Look. Wonder. Share. Flourish.
Malcolm Guite is among the poets contributing to the Send My Roots Rain: A Poetry Retreat day on Saturday May 15th. The event is organised by the Church Times and sponsored by Sarum College.
Forthcoming poetry-related courses at Sarum College
From 24-27 May, Pádraig Ó Tuama will lead a Biblical Study Break on Story Theology: Narrative Approaches to Scripture
On 22 June, the Revd Paul Burden and Dr Beth Dodd lead an online day Preaching, Poetry and Prophetic speech.