Malcolm Guite

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Well, it’s time. High time. I’ve been hoarding a literary treasure for far too long. I did tell a few good souls about this gem of a writer at Hutchmoot, but really, the whole world needs to know and its time I sound the trumpet.

Have you ever discovered an author who speaks the language of your inmost thoughts? A writer who answers the questions that were just beginning to ghost about your mind before you even knew what to call them? Have you, moreover, discovered such a writer who is also a poet, a priest at a Cambridge college, a masterful sonneteer, a folk musician, and, well, has an air definitely hobbit-like?

Let me introduce you to the inimitable Malcolm Guite.

I first encountered this lovely writer several years ago as a speaker at a C.S. Lewis conference, where he gave an intriguing talk on the spiritual value of poetry. I loved it, but several years passed and I forgot the encounter. When my Dad got me his just-published Faith, Hope, and Poetry last year for my birthday, my memory stirred and my curiosity was piqued. But when, in the first chapter, I encountered Guite’s central theme of defending “the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty,” I was captivated.

I had just come off a course of study with Michael Ward (author of the marvelous Planet Narnia—another book you must read (reviews here and here), in which we explored the difference between analytical knowledge and the knowledge that comes through experience, through emotion, and most importantly to me, imagination. My studies affirmed everything important to me—the value of beauty, the power of story, the truth that comes through physical creation—and I was hungry to learn more. Guite’s book became my feast.

In Faith, Hope, and Poetry, Guite explores, consideres, and concludes many things I have felt about knowing God through imagination, through poetry and story, but have struggled to articulate. In the opening chapter, he traces the history (a story that begins with the Enlightenment) of our modern dependence on reason, logic, observation, and analysis as the sole means of knowing what is true. He explores the false divide of imagination from reason, and challenges the modern skepticism toward imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, arguing that poetry, myth, and story are vital and powerful ways through which we know what is true. Sounds like the topic of many a conversation at Hutchmoot.

The book offers a grand survey of poetry starting with The Dream of the Rood and ending with Seamus Heaney, in which Guite demonstrates how the faculty of imagination aids us in apprehending that which is real, but just beyond our sight. To quote him quoting Shakespeare: “This is the heart of the art: to create a shape that can be sounded, a network of vocables, a nameable name, in which to incarnate insight, so that the remote or uncatchable is caught in the net of sound and has ‘a local habitation and a name’ that can evoke it forever after.” (The Shakespeare line is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings basically saved my faith, and poetry, story, and myth are the means through which I have always most poignantly encountered the world of faith. They are also the means by which I seek to communicate my faith, so for me (and I bet it might be for many of you) his book was a powerful affirmation of imagination as the spiritually potent thing I had always known it to be. But the book is just the beginning.

Hungry for more, I logged onto Guite’s website and discovered that he is also a skilled and poignant poet. His sonnets are masterful, and he just finished a collection called Sounding the Seasons, a cycle of sonnets to mark the church year. His poetry has been a gracious presence during my devotions this year. On top of that, I discovered his podcasts, in particular, a series of talks he did on the Inklings that explained the common vision that drove their desire to “re-enchant the world.”  That website is a goldmine.

So fellow rabbits, I present the good Mr. Guite. Dig in. He is a friend to all lovers of imagination. You should visit his website. Listen to his podcasts on the Inklings. And look at his books as soon as may be. You can thank me at Hutchmoot.

The featured image of Malcolm Guite is used with the kind permission of Lancia Smith. Image copyright Lancia E. Smith, 2011, www.lanciaesmith.com.

Sarah Clarkson is the author of several books including the best-selling The Life-giving Home, which she co-authored with her mother, Sally Clarkson. Sarah is currently studying literature at Oxford University where she’s not only a brilliant thinker and writer, but is also the president of the C. S. Lewis Society.


17 Comments

  1. Aaron

    At last! I’ve been waiting for an article like this about my new favourite poet! I discovered Mr Guite shortly before Christmas, through the music of his friend Steve Bell. I purchased Sounding the Seasons, a beautiful book, and have been following his writing since then. I just can’t recommend him enough. And if his writing and wisdom weren’t already enough, the priest/poet/pipe-smoker combination just sends his coolness factor to 11.

  2. Phil Aud

    Thanks for this. I encountered Guite first through a series of lectures that he gave on a great podcast called “The Kindlings Muse” (http://www.thekindlings.com). I highly recommend both his lectures, and the podcast as a whole.

    Again, thank you for sharing this. I’ll be picking up this book 🙂

  3. Terry Kreutzkamp

    I encountered Guite through Steve Bell as well. Do many Rabbit Roomers know Bell’s music? I think you’d appreciate it, having listened to him/seen concerts for many years now. He seems a kindred spirit. The Bell/Giute composition ‘Descent’ on Keening for the Dawn is simply one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard for a long time.

  4. Matthew Clark

    Yes, I got a copy of his book a couple of years ago and his poetry before that. Wonderful stuff that helps me in a big way to believe in the gifts of creating through word, story, and music. Thankful for Malcolm.

  5. Phil Aud

    Thanks for providing better links Kendall. Was listening to the first lecture again today – great stuff 🙂

  6. JON SLONE

    Thank you for this. I am totally interested. Are his books or book located at Barnes and Noble?

    Also, neat last name. How do you pronounce it?

  7. Sarah

    So glad to find you fellow readers of Guite! And to the rest, hurrah for new discoveries!

    Thanks so much for the links to the podcasts and the info on his music with Steve Bell, something I haven’t explored yet. I look forward to experiencing both. Cheers everyone!

    Jon – I don’t think they’re in most local Barnes and Noble bookstores yet, but both books are available through Amazon. And I believe you pronounce his name as if it rhymes with “kite.”

  8. JON SLONE

    As far as his looks go?

    I see a little bit of the hawk leader in Flash Gordon mixed with some Santa-Rogers or Kenny Claus.

    Seems like a really great man.

  9. Dawn

    I got to know Malcolm when I was in England a couple years ago, and had the privelege to join him for tea at his home. It’s one of my fondest memories of that trip.

    YankeeGospelGirl – Holly Ordway was at that same conference!

  10. Oatlion

    The phenomenon you describe reminds me of Eustace, who was strong on analytical knowledge, but weak on dragons (to his detriment).

  11. Amber Joy Leffel

    Thanks for telling us about this writer! Looks like I’ll be needing to purchase Sounding the Seasons as a gift for my fiance…

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