Lunch Discussion with Cambridge Poet-Theologian Malcolm Guite
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
The Poetic Imagination: a Way of Seeing Reality More Clearly
Imagination is the organ of meaning, teaching us active observation, enhancing our ability to apprehend and comprehend. Seamus Heaney spoke of poetry offering a glimpse and a clarification, here is how an earlier poet Coleridge, put it, when he was writing about what he and Wordsworth were hoping to offer through their poetry, which was “awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.” All of creation is rife with spiritual meaning, our imagination helps us grasp this fact.
Malcolm Guite is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Cambridge, England where he also works as an Anglican priest and theological academic. He holds an MA in English from Cambridge University, 1980 and a PhD from Durham University in 1993. Chaplain of Girton College, he teaches for the Divinity Faculty in Cambridge. Dr. Guite lectures widely in both the UK and North America. He is the author of several books on literature and theology. His research interests include the intersection of religion and the arts, the examination of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and British poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Of note among his books are Faith, Hope and Poetry, Ashgate, 2010; Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press, 2013; andThe Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, Canterbury Press, 2014, Love Remember: Poems of Loss, Lament and Hope, Canterbury Press, 2017.
As an appetiser, and to give you an idea of my reasons for compiling this anthology here are the opening paragraphs of my introduction: ~Malcolm Guite
Why might we want to take time in Lent, to immerse ourselves in poetry, to ask for the poets as companions on our journey with the Word through the wilderness? Perhaps it is one of the poet’s themselves who can answer that question. In The Redress of Poetry, the collection of his lectures as Oxford Professor of Poetry, Seamus Heaney claims that poetry ‘offers a clarification, a fleeting glimpse of a potential order of things ‘beyond confusion’, a glimpse that has to be its own reward’ (p. xv). However qualified by terms like ‘fleeting’, ‘glimpse’ and ‘potential’, this is still a claim that poetry, and more widely the poetic imagination, is truth-bearing; that it offers not just some inner subjective experience but as Heaney claims, a redress; the redress of an imbalance in our vision of the world and ourselves. Heaney’s claim in these lectures, and in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, is that we can ‘Credit Poetry’, trust its tacit, intuitive and image-laden way of knowledge. I have examined these claims in detail elsewhere (Faith Hope and Poetry) and tried to show, in more academic terms, how the poetic imagination does indeed redress an imbalance and is a necessary complement to more rationalistic and analytical ways of knowing. What I would like to do in this book is to put that insight into practice, and turn to poetry for a clarification of who we are, how we pray, how we journey through our lives with God and how he comes to journey with us.
Lent is a time set aside to re-orient ourselves, to clarify our minds, to slow down, recover from distraction, to focus on the values of God’s Kingdom and on the value he has set on us and on our neighbours. There are a number of distinctive ways in which poetry can help us do that and in particular the poetry I have chosen for this anthology.
Heaney spoke of poetry offering a glimpse and a clarification, here is how an earlier poet Coleridge, put it, when he was writing about what he and Wordsworth were hoping to offer through their poetry, which was
“awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”
(Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. II, pp. 6−7)