Then stir my love in idleness to flame
To find at last the free refining fire
That guards the hidden garden whence I came.
O do not kill, but quicken my desire,
Better to spur me on than leave me cold.
Not maimed I come to you, I come entire,
Lit by the loves that warm, the lusts that scald,
That you may prove the one, reprove the other,
Though both have been the strength by which I scaled
The steps so far to come where poets gather
And sing such songs as love gives them to sing.
I thank God for the ones who brought me hither
And taught me by example how to bring
The slow growth of a poem to fruition
And let it be itself, a living thing,
Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition
And still to try the tautness of each line,
Taught me to taste the grace of transformation
And trace in dust the face of the divine,
Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian,
That drawing water turns it into wine.
Now I am drawn through their imagination
To dare to dance with them into the fire,
Harder than any grand renunciation,
To bring to Christ the heart of my desire
Just as it is in every imperfection,
Surrendered to his bright refiner’s fire
That love might have its death and resurrection.
Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem
It is somehow easier for us to understand Jesus as the Son of God than the Son of Man. When Christ spoke of Himself this way, the gospel of John says the crowds were astonished and asked “Who is this Son of Man?” His reply was instructive. He said “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light lest the darkness overtake you…” We tend to suppress our humanity as somehow bereft of the imago Dei, yet here we find Jesus with both promise and warning.
Desire which fuels our passion is not to be extinguished but rather elevated from corrupt and poor substitutions by the light of Christ. We are grateful to poets who strengthen and inspire us to lift our heads as children of God. As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:
Through them I learned that the right response to Eros is not to ask for less desire, but for more, to deepen my desires until nothing but Heaven can satisfy them. I also take occasion here to think about the art of poetry itself. There is a parallel, I think between our love-life and the making of poetry. In both there is an initial gift and inspiration, a subtle and all-transforming intuition of beauty. But in both this might easily be frittered away or corrupted. The first glimpse, the intuition, which as it did for Yeats’s Wandering Aengus, should lead to a life-times quest, can be lost or dissipated in the pursuit of one will’o’the wisp after another. Or we can be faithful to it: that first intuition, that graceful gift of love can be attended to, and shaped.
How does passion reveal the image of God?
The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
D I G D E E P E R
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.
Art: London Street Art: Golden Lady by Josephine R. Unglaub
Unglaub is a German-based artist and photographer with a passion for surrealism. Her work can be found here: https://lemanshots.wordpress.com