Malcolm Guite writes for this day:
In our poetic journey through the sacred seasons of the year we have come to midsummer! The traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calendar. Luke tells us that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!
The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.
St. John the Baptist: 1 St. John’s Eve
Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill
Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:
‘He must increase and I diminish still,
Until his sun illuminates my night.’
So John the Baptist pioneers our path,
Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,
Unlatches the last doorway into faith,
And makes one inner space an everywhere.
Least of the new and greatest of the old,
Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,
He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold
The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”
So keep his fires burning through this night,
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
-Malcolm Guite (Nativity of) St. John the Baptist
It’s National Poetry Month and now that I take notice, we are nearly at the end of it. That prompts me to finally take this bit out of my files to give you in celebration.
I read a post from Malcolm Guite two years ago in which he tells about his visit to the Emily Dickinson home/museum, and seeing her little desk; his musings provoked me to think, too. He wonders if the physical narrowness of her space somehow helped her to turn “restraint to grace,” in this poem which, as always, you can hear him read if you like: Emily Dickinson’s Desk
That’s two poets to honor this month, and here is a poetry from a third, that may have nothing really to do with Malcolm and Emily — but I think it does. If not in any other way, then because Jane (photo above) is in a “room” with the other poets…. where, I suppose, they are all scratching out, or typing their lines… or only composing mentally and invisibly for the moment…. each wishing she could just be alone in a quiet room with a tiny writing table… I better stop or I’ll have to write a poem about my three poets.
AN HOUR IS NOT A HOUSE
An hour is not a house,
a life is not a house,
you do not go through them as if
they were doors to another.
Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
four walls, a ceiling.
An hour can be dropped like a glass.
Some want quiet as others want bread.
Some want sleep.
My eyes went
to the window, as a cat or dog left alone does.
XV EASTER DAWN
He blesses every love which weeps and grieves
And now he blesses hers who stood and wept
And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s
Last touching place, but watched as low light crept
Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs
A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
Or recognise the Gardener standing there.
She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,
Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light
That brightens as she chokes out her reply
‘They took my love away, my day is night’
And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.
by Malcolm Guite, who reads his sonnet here.
We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy,
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.
You can hear the poet read his sonnet.