Category Archives: Poetry

Ad Fontes #2

From Lutheran Service Book’s Daily Lectionary for November 30:

‘In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.’  (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Or, to put it another way (especially if you’re Martin Luther assembling his Deutsche Messe in the 1520s):

Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
The Lord of all in Spirit did behold
High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
With robes that filled the temple courts with light.
Above the throne were flaming seraphim,
Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
With two they veiled their faces, as was right,
With two they humbly hid their feet from sight,
And with the other two aloft they soared,
One to the other called and praised the Lord:
“Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
His glory fills the heavens and the earth!”
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high.

(English translation from The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, alt.)

— Rick Krueger

Christopher Tolkien and the legacy of his father J.R.R. Tolkien: The Steward of Middle-earth

Now, after more than 40 years, at the age of 94, Christopher Tolkien has laid down his editor’s pen, having completed a great labor of quiet, scholastic commitment to his father’s vision. It is the concluding public act of a gentleman and scholar, the last member of a club that became a pivotal part of 20th-century literature: the Inklings. It is the end of an era.
— Read on www.weeklystandard.com/hannah-long/christopher-tolkien-and-the-legacy-of-his-father-j-r-r-tolkien-the-steward-of-middle-earth

An excellent review by Hannah Long. Enjoy. And, God bless, the Tolkiens!

Ad Fontes

From Lutheran Service Book’s Daily Lectionary for November 22:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.” (Revelation 19:6)

Or, to put it another way (especially if you’re George Frederic Handel (and his librettist Charles Jennens):

But wait, there’s more …

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:17-18)

Or, to put it another way, if you’re Genesis with Peter Gabriel:

 

— Rick Krueger

Cecilian Ode #2: “Welcome to All the Pleasures”

In 1683, a new organization, the Musical Society of London, commissioned a setting of Christopher Fishburn’s ode Welcome to All the Pleasures for performance on St. Cecilia’s Day — November 22nd.  The Society chose Henry Purcell, 24 years old and already the organist at both Westminister Abbey and the Chapel Royal, as the composer.

Welcome to All the Pleasures proved a hit, with Purcell’s innovative use of the ritornello (a riff for strings punctuating a section of the work) and the ground (a repeating bass line anchoring vocal variations) causing quite the sensation.  Not only it was published the following year  — a rarity for an extended work in Restoration England — it became the first in a series of Cecilian odes commissioned by the Musical Society for their annual celebration.  Purcell wrote three more such odes before his untimely death in 1695, as did contemporaries like John Blow and successors like George Frederic Handel, often setting libretti by renowned poets such as John Dryden and Alexander Pope.

This year, St. Cecilia’s Day is also Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  Why not give thanks for the gifts of music and poetry by spending 15 minutes with Welcome to All the Pleasures?  The text of Christopher Fishburn’s ode follows below the playlist.

Welcome to All the Pleasures:

Symphony

Alto, tenor and bass: chorus: ritornello
Welcome to all the pleasures that delight
Of ev’ry sense the grateful appetite,
Hail, great assembly of Apollo’s race.
Hail to this happy place, this musical assembly
That seems to be the arc of universal harmony.

Alto: ritornello
Here the Deities approve
The God of Music and of Love;
All the talents they have lent you,
All the blessings they have sent you,
Pleas’d to see what they bestow,
Live and thrive so well below.

Two sopranos and bass: ritornello
While joys celestial their bright souls invade
To find what great improvement you have made.

Alto, tenor and bass: chorus
Then lift up your voices, those organs of nature,
Those charms to the troubled and amorous creature.
The power shall divert us a pleasanter way,
For sorrow and grief find from music relief,
And love its soft charms must obey.
Then lift up your voices, those organs of nature,
Those charms to the troubled and amorous creature.

Tenor: ritornello
Beauty, thou scene of love,
And virtue thou innocent fire,
Made by the powers above
To temper the heat of desire,
Music that fancy employs
In rapture of innocent flame,
We offer with lute and with voice
To Cecilia, Cecilia’s bright name.

Tenor: chorus
In a consort of voices while instruments play
With music we celebrate this holy day;
Iô Cecilia!

(This is the second in a series exploring the Cecilian Ode, a uniquely English poetic and musical genre that spans the centuries from the late 1600s to the present.  Check out Ode #1 here; look for a new ode on or about the 22nd of each month!)

— Rick Krueger

 

 

St. Cecilia’s Day

St. Cecilia’s Day

Annals of the ages
preserved no evidence,
not a trace esconced
in the walls of titular tombs.

Yet her spirit guided
the hand of history
to the bones of her testament

in her name,
carved into stone
of a sepluchre in the catacomb.

She lives,
enlivened by the virginal joy
not given over
to earthly ecstacy.

Hers, the empassioned embrace,
of the sacrificial body.

Hers, the voice
ringing out the sweet sounds
of certainty.

A life, emboldened to stand
firm in the face of gallows,
flourishes
and runs free
into welcoming elysian fields.

The haunting gaze of conviction
urges us to run abreast,
yet fixed souls stand in awe
of such simple,
wonderous,
radiance.

This, the heart of the saint.
This, the incantation of eternal love,
a wordless aria
soaring to heaven.

And so she is here,
as present as you and I
as we, in unearthly voices,
sound the passing knell

to cast the thundering waves
of joy—the light engaged
to cast aside the trappings
that sustain the worldly
mammon and the madness

Faith and light and trembling
hope—you know the voice
sung out to angels,
the censorial sonance to the cold
hand of the rex legem

Condemned now,
the responding smile
opens the heart
to the flowing blood of truth.

There, the bejeweled
backdrop of guilded stones,
reveals the maiden betrothed,
not defiled.

Eyes cast aloft,
her soul ascends
through winds divine

and just below,
the angelic gaze,
a perfect alabaster nape
which twice and again
the henchman cleaved
but could not sever.

A final sign
of love revealed,
of three in one—
her love now sealed.

Kevin McCormick
22 November, 2018

 

Music and the Arts Over Partisan Politics

Named for St. Cecilia, patroness of music and the arts, this blog, Spirit of Cecilia, highlights music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film. These fields of enjoyment and expression are creative and interactive, requiring both a transmitter and a recipient to achieve their fullest potential and profoundest effects.

It’s my hope that these fields, which we might usefully and with slight reservation label the humanities, can accomplish far more than partisan politics to expand the frontiers of knowledge and deepen our understanding of ourselves as human beings created by an awesome God.  Anger is not a constructive starting point for connecting with strangers or political opponents if the goal is mutual understanding. Hard logic puts strangers and political opponents on the defensive, causing them to question the logician’s motives and work through whatever problems and challenges the logician has presented.  But aesthetics: they provide pleasure and the kind of sensory experience in which people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs share and delight. This is not a grand claim about the universality of standards of beauty but rather a plain statement about the obvious draw of humans to phenomena that stir in them strange and wonderful emotions, that cause them to think about the timeless questions that the greatest minds over the centuries have contemplated with differing degrees of gravity and intensity. The fact that we have music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film at all suggests a certain commonality among human likes and desires across places and cultures.

I am an administrator in a law school, a recovering lawyer you might say, who happens to have earned a doctorate in English.  I am grateful to Dr. Bradley Birzer for including me as a contributor to the Spirit of Cecilia and have high hopes for what it can achieve. Life is difficult for everyone at some time or another.  Wouldn’t it be great if this site were a forum where friendships are built, ideas are exchanged civilly and in good faith, and a profound awareness of our shared humanity served as the predicate for our interpretations and communications?  I look forward to writing in this space. May it flourish.

–Allen Mendenhall

Cecilian Ode #1

A Hymn for St. Cecilia, composed by Herbert Howells [1892-1983]

Sing for the morning’s joy, Cecilia, sing,
In words of youth and praises of the Spring,
Walk the bright colonnades by fountains’ spray,
And sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
Till angels, voyaging in upper air,
Pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
Into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
A silver chain, or golden as your hair.

Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
In words of music, and each word a truth;
Marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
A bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
Terror must gather to a martyr’s death;
But never tremble, the last indrawn breath
Remembers music as an echo may.

Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia’s music dances in the skies;
Lend us a fragment of th’immortal air,
That with your choiring angels we may share,
A word to light us thro’ time-fettered night,
Water of life, or rose of paradise,
So from the earth another song shall rise
To meet your own in heaven’s long delight.

— Text by Ursula Vaughan Williams [1911-2007]

This is the first in an occasional series exploring the Cecilian Ode, a uniquely English poetic and musical genre that spans the centuries from the late 1600s to the present.  More to come!

— Rick Krueger