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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.