Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Saying of Jesus and Other Poems, is Malcolm Guite’s latest collection of poetry. As he did in Sounding the Seasons, Guite uses the Bible as a springboard for many of his poems, and as the title suggests, in this case it is Christ’s words, such as his “I AM’s” and his “hard sayings”, that form the basis of his poetic reflections here.
“When it comes to hearing the words of Jesus, our great problem is over familiarity”, Guite writes in his preface, and in his poems on Christ’s sayings, he intends, as he writes in one sonnet, to “peel aside the thin familiar film” and help us feel the force of Christ’s words again.
Guite does this both in beautifully comforting poems such as “Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled” (which you can read here) and in challenging ones like “A Sword”, which begins “Oh, you have come indeed to send a sword/We feel it in the keening grief that cuts/Through kinship, blood, and culture.”
The collection also includes some wider-ranging pieces (akin to those found in his The Singing Bowl) where Guite celebrates themes such as nature, wordplay, and—yes—decay (in which latter he praises the “old and mouldering” in the face of “the shiny new,/Persistent plastic choking out our life”).
As in his previous collections, I appreciate Guite’s spiritual insight, the beauty of his language, and his commitment—for the most part—to using poetic forms rather than free verse. Two of my favourite couplets show off his skill:
“Slowly, slowly, turning a cold key,
Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.”
“For longing is the veil of satisfaction,
And grief the veil of future happiness.”
Let me finish with one of my favourite poems, which is a sequence of seven roundels mirroring the seven days of creation, while also tying in the theme of each day with the story of our lives now. The first, deeply satisfying, roundel begins
“Let there be light as I begin this day,
To draw me from the darkness and the night,
To bless my flesh, to clear and show the way,
Let there be light.”