Two rivers deepening into one;
less said, more meant; a field of corn
adjusting to harvest; a battle won
by yielding; days emptied to their brim;
an autumn; a wedding; a logarithm;
self-evidence earned, a coming home
to something brand new but always known;
not doing, but being – a single noun;
now in infinity; a fortune found
in all that’s disposable; not out there, but in,
the ceremonials of light in the rain;
the power of being nothing, but sane.
Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem
Emily Dickinson wrote “Forever is composed of Nows.” With her, we understand that the moment we inhabit instantly becomes the past as the future becomes the present. It occurs with every breath. In today’s poem, contemporary poet Gwyneth Lewis employs rich imagery to quiet our minds. In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:
Her images speak both of our awareness of meditation and mindfulness as part of the palette of prayer and of the dangers of our overcrowded and assertive lifestyles, our need of ‘days emptied to their brim’ and battles ‘won by yielding’.
Lewis speaks of confluent rivers which call our minds to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit united with us. As Malcolm puts it:
And if we are to think of prayer or meditation as ‘two rivers deepening into one’ then we must think of that other greater river: the flow of God’s loving, renewing and self-giving presence in the gift of his Holy Spirit. This is often presented as a rising fountain, a flowing stream, as in the promise Jesus gave to the Samaritan woman of a fountain rising within her to eternal life. We met this river in our very first poem when Heaney translated John of the Cross, the hidden fountain that is ‘all sources’ source and origin’. At any and every moment of prayer that river meets ours; they flow together, and then indeed in that union the channel of our own life, which might have been running shallow and babbling for a while, suddenly deepens.
How does the presence of the Holy Spirit change our perspective of time?
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
Gwyneth Lewis was Wales’s National Poet from 2005-06, the first writer to be given the Welsh laureateship. She has published eight books of poetry in Welsh and English. Chaotic Angels (Bloodaxe Books, 2005) brings together the poems from her three English collections, Parables & Faxes, Zero Gravity and Keeping Mum. Her latest book is Sparrow Tree. Gwyneth wrote the six-foot-high words for the front of Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre (which are located just in front of the space-time continuum, as seen on Dr Who and Torchwood.). She won the Crown at the National Eisteddfod 2012.
Her first collection in English, Parables & Faxes (Bloodaxe Books, 1995), won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward. Her second. Zero Gravity (Bloodaxe Books, 1998), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Poetry. Sparrow Tree (Bloodaxe 2011) won the Roland Mathias Poetry Award. The BBC made a documentary of Zero Gravity, inspired by her astronaut cousin’s voyage to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Gwyneth was part of the Poetry Society’s Next Generation promotion.
Gwyneth’s first non-fiction book Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression (Harper Perennial 2002), was short listed for the Mind Book of the Year. Her adaptation of the play for BBC Radio 4 won a Mental Health in the Media award. Her second book of non-fiction, Two in a Boat: A Marital Voyage (Fourth Estate, 2005) recounts a voyage made with her husband on a small boat from Cardiff to North Africa.
She is a librettist and has written two chamber operas for children and an oratorio, all were commissioned and performed by Welsh National Opera with amateur singers. Stardust: A Love Story, which explains the basic principles of particle physics, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. In 2006 she was Writer in Residence at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University.
In the 1980s, Gwyneth spent three years in the US as a Harkness Fellow, where she studied at Harvard University and the Graduate Writing Division of Columbia University in the City of New York. She was a television documentary producer and director at BBC Wales and left the BBC to become a freelance writer. She has been a NESTA Fellow (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and has received Wellcome Trust Sciart and Creative Wales awards.
In 2008-09 Gwyneth was the Mildred Londa Wiseman Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University and in 2009-10 Joint Sica/Stanford Humanities Center Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Stanford University. In 2010 she was given a Society of Authors Cholmondeley Award recognizing a body of work and achievement of distinction. Gwyneth is Honorary Fellow of Cardiff, Liverpool and Bangor Universities, and Honorary Doctor of University of Glamorgan. In 2011 she was Mary Amelia Cummins Harvey Visiting Fellow Commoner at Girton College, Cambridge.
In 2012 Gwyneth was a Writing Fellow at the Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester and from 2012-13 a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Swansea University.
GWYNETH LEWIS photo ©keith morris 2012
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.