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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Musick, Brideshead, and Herbert

I recently joined a very demanding choir. What this means is that I have no time for reading. I'm not sure yet that the trade is worth it, but, as these new demands are not constant, I think it will be good. I am aching to read, and once our concert is well and truly done, hopefully I can switch back over for a much needed literary refueling.

Strawberries in Champagne (England)

I recently hit that point where the newness of my new life is no longer new; in consequence, the oldness of my old life has been soaking in a particularly and increasingly attractive gleam of nostalgia. I'm satisfying this need-to-be-where-I-have-been-before by watching an episode of Brideshead Revisited before I fall asleep each night. This, in turn, makes me wish I were back in school; the best parts of the wildness and joyful exuberance with which Sebastian and Charles lived out their Arcadian days at Oxford and at Brideshead remind me of the intense richness of late night poetry proclamations, warm conversations, hints of decadence, ebullient beauty, long hours of singing and the resultant deeply cemented friendships that were the heart and soul of my own time at college. One of my dearest professors charged my class as we were leaving: "Maintain an epic sense of the world as momentous, divinely-charged, inexhaustible, and maintain that glorious synthesis of high seriousness and irrepressible playfullness." I suppose this is what I feel myself somehow lacking now.

Daisies in Olympic Stadium (Greece)

And so I turned back to my dear friend George Herbert, whom I first encountered as the summit and depth of all my college efforts under the dread and delightful heading "Junior Poet Project." As such, his poetry has since become a familiar, comforting, warm and welcoming source of sympathy and peace. He was one of the metaphysical poets living in the 17th century, focused much on theological matters, and justly overshadowed by the contemporary and really much superior poet, his mother's friend John Donne. I opened to The Thanksgiving, about which I am sure there are many more fine things to be said than I am going to say now, but the comforts given to me in my one short read-through were two in number.

First, in lines 3-4: "Oh King of wounds! how shall I grieve for thee, / Who in all grief preventest me?" The idea in these words reminds me of some of the words in the Mass that never fail to astound me if I actually stop and think about them: "What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given me? I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord. Praising will I call upon the Lord and I shall be saved from my enemies." How can we adequately grieve for Him? How can we possibly repay Him for all that He has done for us? Why, nothing simpler! Continue letting Him do things. Continue taking what he offers. Continue drinking his blood (that's what's in the Chalice of Salvation). Wow. All we have to do is say yes and He'll do, is already doing, constantly and eternally does, all the heavy lifting, all the protecting us from our enemies. He is the only one who can give us the ability to thank Him -- the thanking him comes from him. He is thanked if we continue taking from him. Boundless, depthless, fathomless generosity and incomprehensible gift of self. "You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat. So I did sit and eat."

Given the truly only ever so slight hint of resentment with which I find myself looking at my music binder (I love this music -- I really do), I found myself laughing a little ruefully at these next lines: "My musick shall finde thee, and ev'ry string / Shall have his attribute to sing; / That all together may accord in thee, / And prove one God, one harmonie" (39-42). Especially given the fact that I sing in choirs, each voice having his own attribute to sing, and that I have the alto line, the harmony line, and, to top it all off, it is always sacred music (much of which Herbert might well have had a chance to hear himself), this was one of the moments where the text was speaking right to me. It was, no doubt, written just for me.

So yes, my exposure to the written word has been sadly limited in these last weeks. But I've been lucky in what I've read. I hope you enjoy it as well.

1 comment:

  1. I love it when things leap out at you, like that. Don't you sometimes wish God would send you a telegram-- and then sometimes he does.

    As to those words of the Mass, I am always bowled over by them, too. How can I thank Thee? By taking more. Yup!