Featured Reviews, VOLUME 6

Malcolm Guite – Sounding the Seasons [Feature Review]

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A Feature Review of

Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets For the Christian Year
Malcolm Guite

Paperback: Canterbury, 2012
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Reviewed by Philip Zoutendam

 

We are “tangled in time” says the first line in Sounding the Seasons. The remainder of the book, a sonnet sequence for the Christian year, is Malcolm Guite’s way of untangling us, untangling us by plunging into time. As Guite “sounds the seasons” aurally with the music of each poem, he also sounds—that is, fathoms—their meaning. His reader is immersed in a particular moment in time, but because that moment is isolated, meditated on, it is elevated out of time.


 
Poetry is the right medium for such an operation; poetry, and the sonnet in particular, has long been perceived as a mode of timelessness, a means to immortality. A sonnet is a “moment’s monument” Guite reminds us, borrowing Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s epithet in that first poem. It is something standing in the temporal but pointing to and striving for the eternal. Thus times and seasons, through the arresting lens of Guite’s poetry, do for a moment lead, as his prologue promises, “through time to endless glory.”

 

Guite’s sequence traces the liturgical calendar from Advent to Christmas and Epiphany, through Lent and to the Passion and resurrection of Holy Week, and then through Pentecost and finally the long stretch of “Ordinary Time” that wraps back around to Advent. Some of his poems celebrate feasts or holy days, others explore readings or themes from a season.

 

The longest related series of poems is Guite’s twelve-sonnet rendering of the Stations of the Cross. Though it comprises a large portion of the book, it is perhaps the quickest portion. Guite captures the Passion narrative’s momentum in his poems, bridging them by repeating in each sonnet a significant line from the preceding poem.


Two other notable series occur at the beginning, before Guite actually steps into time and the seasons. First, he cites his sources, “The Four Evangelists,” with a sonnet characterizing each Gospel text. “First of the four, Saint Matthew is the Man,” he begins: his gospel “discloses / Eternal love within a human face” and “Christ [in] the heart of every human story”; Mark is “A winged lion, swift, immediate, / Mark is the Gospel of the sudden shift;” Luke’s Gospel “is itself a living creature, / A ground and glory round the throne of God;” finally, John declares “the Gospel of the primal light, / The first beginning, and the fruitful end.”

 
After the Evangelists, Guite lingers on the edge of Advent. He looks up before looking forward, offering lyrics derived from ancient Latin antiphons in praise of the Godhead: “O Sapientia,” “O Adonai,” “O Radix,” “O Clavis,” “O Oriens,” “O Rex Gentium,” and finally “O Emmanuel.” These are his pithiest poems and his highest poetry. In “O Clavis,” celebrating God as the Key, we find this intricate image:
 

I can remember freedom, but forget

That every lock must answer to a key,

That each dark clasp, sharp and intimate,

Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard.

Particular, exact, and intricate,

The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.

 
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