This Year. This Year.

I recently turned twenty-seven, which—let me inform you—means that I’m now as old as Jane Austen’s oldest heroine, Anne Elliot, and significantly older than the likes of Miss “I am not one and twenty” Elizabeth Bennett.

I spent part of my last day as a twenty-six-year-old in Oxford. I strolled down Christ Church meadows by the river, pausing now and again to look out across the fields at the college itself, in all its perfection of centuries-old stone. Even the weeds in the meadow and the cloudy sky didn’t detract from the beauty of the picture.

My real destination, however, was Magdalen College. I’d visited it before, but only in part, and I was eager, for Lewis’ sake, to see Addison’s Walk.  As I walked beside the field of grazing deer, I kept my eyes open for the Lewis poem that I knew was on a plaque somewhere, and I spotted it just before the path made a right-angle turn. It’s a round grey plaque with a poem engraved on it that begins like this: “I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:/This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.” It’s an achingly beautiful poem about the recurrence of hope when the year is young.

It’s amazing how persistently we keep on hoping, despite disappointment after disappointment. A new year, another birthday, and we find ourselves hoping that—this year, this year—things will change. Eric Peters sings:

This is the year when laughter douses charred and burnt-out dreams
This is the year when wrens return to nest in storm-blown trees
Is this the year of relocation from boughs of old despair?
This is the year to perch on hope’s repair

As I begin this new year of being twenty-seven, I’m hoping for so much. Frankly, I’m pleading with God for some things to change. And I cling to the hope that they will, because life without hope isn’t worth living.

I need to remind myself, however, that even if they don’t change, my life isn’t without hope. In fact, through Jesus Christ, it’s rich in hope, whether I choose to recognise that or not.

David says it so clearly: For you, O Lord, are my hope. And because of that, I really can hope continually.

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Caretakers of the Past

We’re over halfway through August already. A few days ago, I noticed that there were some leaves scattered on the ground underneath the large tree near the top of our lawn. That particular tree does shake off its leaves in rather more of a hurry than more sedate trees tend to do, but still, it made me realise that we’re on the downhill of the year. Where has it gone?

Before I began writing this, I dipped into a handful of posts that I’d written here over the last two years or so. Looking at them again, I was grateful for the memories I’d recorded: roses, a rainbow, strangers on trains with books. Things too easily forgotten in the blur of life. And I was grateful for the thoughts that I’d shared about books I’d read—glad that I’d taken the time to process my thoughts rather than simply rushing on to the next thing.

I wrote a little piece about Bro5 for my creative writing class at the beginning of the year. I didn’t publish it on my blog, but re-reading it today after all these months, I was thankful to have stored away that that sketch of him as he is now, since it is not him as he will be in five or ten years’ time. I wish I’d written more pieces like that. Although I love him as he is, and although I’ll love him as he will be, I also loved him as he was. What a treasure it would have been to have had those vignettes of his three-year-old self and his six-year-old self too. There’s so much I’ve forgotten.

Time really does go by so fast. I can’t hold my days hostage, but if I can use words to sketch a face here, a form there, as they glide past, I’ll be able to retain something of their beauty long after they themselves have departed.

Don’t trust what you love to that traitor, memory. Words are more faithful caretakers. Entrust a little to your pen or your keyboard—a happy day, an answered prayer, an amusing story—and I think that, like me, you’ll be glad that you did.

The Singing Bowl

And when the heart is full of quietness

Begin the song exactly where you are.

So reads the closing couplet of Malcolm Guite’s introductory poem, which goes by the same title as his book, The Singing Bowl. “Begin the song exactly where you are” is a good motto for this little collection of poetry, whose subject matter ranges from coffee shops and iPhones to saints and communion tables, and encompasses grief and joy, contemplation and worry.

The Singing Bowl is noticeably different from Guite’s previous book Sounding the Seasons, a collection of sonnets marking dates in the church calendar, and not simply in subject matter. Unlike Sounding the Seasons, The Singing Bowl uses a variety of poetic forms such as blank verse, quatrains, the villanelle, and even (gasp) free verse. Despite these changes, however, Guite’s spiritual insight and his beauty of expression are still present.

Let me pick out some fragments to tantalise you.

These are the opening lines from “Hatley St George”, a poem about an old church.

 

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.

Where clear glass lets in living light to touch

And bless your eyes, a beech tree’s tender green

Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.

 

And, in a different vein, here’s a verse from his “iOde”:

 

I am familiar with a hundred faces,

All famished for their fifteen minutes fame

I am half present in a hundred places

But never present in the place I am.

 

And, lastly, the closing lines of “Pour out the Wine”:

 

So now, whilst hands can touch and eyes can see,

Raise up the glass and let your glance meet mine,

And when I’m gone, do this one thing for me,

Pour out the wine.

 

I have a natural bias against contemporary poets. I dislike free verse, I dislike banality, and I dislike ugliness, all of which seem to afflict contemporary poetry more than older poetry. But it’s possible to be a modern poet with an eye and an ear for beauty, order, and meaning, and also to be contemporary and real and Guite is proof of this.

Even if he does sometimes use free verse….