In my second last post, I talked about the problem of imagination in Evangelical circles; in this post I want to talk about someone who is doing something to redress it, a modern English poet, priest, and scholar by the name of Malcolm Guite. Guite was brought to my attention about a month ago at a concert by Canadian singer/songwriter Steve Bell. At some point after the concert, I looked him up, and was duly impressed with what I found. He dares to write sonnets in the 21st Century. He has written a book on theology and imagination (which I need to order), and includes a discussion of Old English poetry. His work that I have thus far become most familiar with is his CD, “The Green Man.”
This CD has a lot of good things going for it, both from a literary and theological point of view. The title track is – at least I would argue – an oblique reference to Gawain’s green night interpreted as a synthesis of Christ and the personified fertility of nature (a little like Chesterton’s Thursday). Like Gawain’s Green Knight, this “green man” cannot be beaten no matter how careless his human foes are; the chorus states “If you cut me down, I’ll spring back green again.”
Guite’s reference to the green knight is typical of the rest of the album. He inhabits Biblical and literary phrases but puts his own slight enough twist on them to ensure they don’t become preachy or cliched. Though he lacks the cultural and politico-religious fabric from which poets such as Donne and Herbert wove their work, he nonetheless attempts to follow in their footsteps. “New TV” is a brilliant satire of modern society (no matter where you plug it in, you won’t get any love from your new TV), while “Our Lady of the Highway” takes Marian devotion to Highway 61 – and includes a good chunk of quotation from the Magnificat. “Open Door” is reminiscent of something Rich Mullins might have written, an infinite riff on the Biblical image of Christ as the door to heaven. “Angels Unawares” discovers grace in the midst of humble earthy romance, and “Texas Farewell” includes some treats for C. S. Lewis fans (I’ll let you discover those for yourself).
It is encouraging to me that people such as Malcolm Guite manage to exist somehow in the modern world; it is encouraging to see someone daring to imagine things outside of both secular narrowness and its cloned Evangelical narrowness so often found in Christian singer/songwriters. It is encouraging to find someone who measures time by liturgical seasons and sings about nature, whiskey, and God like some kind of Johnny Cash turned celtic. And it is in the hope of encouraging others that I share his website.