Tag Archives: Music

Lent with Herbert day 12: A Kind Of Tune

On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we have come to the middle two lines, the very hinge of the sonnet, Herbert turns for comfort and wisdom to his beloved world of music:

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

Kind of tune that all things hear and fear

Yesterday we looked at the image of transposition and today I want to focus on prayer as ‘a kind of tune’. In Herbert’s conception prayer is at once the natural music of the soul. and also an act of discernment in which we hear at last the true music, the song of Chtist himself, and gradually tune ourselves or rather allow him to tune us to that. These are both insights he may have received from Donne who expressed them both together in a remarkable sermon which Herbert may have heard:

God made this whole world in such an uniformity, such a correspondancy,  such a concinnity of parts, as that it was an Instrument, perfectly in tune: we may say the trebles, the highest strings, were disordered first; the best understandings, Angels and Men, put this instrument out of tune. God rectified all again, by putting in a new string…the Messias, and onely by sounding that string in your eares, become we musicum carmen, true musick, true harmony, true peace to you.(Sermons II, p.170.)

I think this passage, which struck me forcibly when I was studying Donne’s sermons for my PhD, was also in my mind when I came to write this sonnet, which is paired with the one we read for day 11.

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

 

A Kind Of Tune

 

A kind of tune, a music everywhere

And nowhere. Love’s long lovely undersong,

A trace in time, a grace-note in the air,

Borne to us from the place where we belong

On every passing breeze and in the breath

Of every creature. All things hear and fear,

For faintly, through our fall, we too may hear

The strong song of the Son that undoes death.

 

And one day we will hear it unimpaired:

The joy of all the sorrowful, the song

Of all the saints who cry ‘how long’,

The hidden hope of all who have despaired.

He sang it to his mother in the womb

And now it echoes from his empty tomb.

Cantus Firmus

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Lent with Herbert Day 11: The six-days world transposing

On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we have emerged at last from his dark series, within the longer sequence, in which Herbert explores the experience of frustration, struggle and anger in our prayer life, focused, finally, in yesterday’s post on the image of Christ’s side-piercing spear. Now, guided by Herbert we can began a new phase in our prayer-life, a kind of chastened recovery, and it is interesting to see how Herbert sets about this. In the next two lines, the middle, two lines, the very hinge of the sonnet, Herbert turns for comfort and wisdom to his beloved world of music:

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

Kind of tune that all things hear and fear

So Herbert offers the insight that prayer itself is a kind of musical transposition, that beautiful gift whereby a sequence of notes that seemed in the wrong key for us, that was somehow unmanageable for us, out of our range, might be transposed, accommodated into a key within our range. Prayer does not ignore ‘the six-days world’ the busy weekday world, the constant cycles of unnerving news, the noise and pain and clamour of daily life, but rather seeks to transpose that dissonance into the key of love. As I worked on this poem I realised that I was articulating something I had been feeling for a long time about the damaging and depressing effect of barrages of bad news unprayed through, accumulating as a kind of uninterpreted cacophony in the mind. We need the gift of transposition and the power to hear, however tiny it might seem, the eternal tuning fork that sounds Christ’s love in the midst of things.

If you have been as disturbed and distressed as I have by the news in recent days I hope this and the following sonnet will help.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.

The six days world transposing in an hour

Twenty-four seven in ‘the six days world’,

In endless cycles of unnerving news,

Relentlessly our restless hurts are hurled

Through empty cyber-space. Is there no muse

To make of all that pain an elegy,

Or in those waves of white noise to discern

Christ’s inner cantus firmus, that deep tone

That might give rise at last to harmony?

 

We may not seal it off or drown it out,

Nor close our hearts down in the hour of prayer,

But listening through dissonance and doubt,

Wait in the space between, until we hear

A change of key, a secret chord disclosed,

A kind of tune, and all the world transposed.

 

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‘Our Burning World’: a collaboration with Rhiannon Randle

Photo Credit: Matthew Abbott/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Back in November I was approached by the composer Rhiannon Randle to write some words for a piece on the theme of creation and the environment she had been commissioned to compose for St. Michael Cornhill.  We both felt that the church needed prayerfully to address the crisis of climate change and to express those concerns in her liturgy. The lectionary readings for the occasion seemed strikingly prescient and appropriate: God’s call to us through Isaiah: ‘Rouse yourself, rouse yourself!’ and Jesus’ words to the disciples in Gethsemane ‘Keep awake and Pray’. Together they seemed to me to form a wake-up call! What emerged as I began writing, was a long cry of the earth, an appeal from nature herself, which Rhiannon could set into song.

I wrote ‘Our Burning World’ before the recent devastating Australian fires, but, as you can imagine, these lines came back to me as those fires burned.

Now Rhiannon has completed the piece and it is to have its premiere at St. Michael Cornhill on Monday 17th February in an evensong service at 6pm. I am very much looking forward to hearing this piece – Rhiannon is a brilliant young composer. Do come and join us there if you can.

Here, meanwhile, are the words for ‘Our Burning World’, and below them the two readings which will accompany the anthem when it is sung.I hope that in a later post I can share a recording of Monday’s premiere:

Our Burning World

Our burning world is turning in despair,

I hear her seething, sighing through the air:

‘Oh rouse yourself, this is your wake up call

For your pollution forms my funeral pall

My last ice lapses, slips into the sea,

Will you unfreeze your tears and weep from me?

Or are you sleeping still, taking your rest?

The hour has come, that puts you to the test,

Wake up to change at last, and change for good,

Repent, return, re-plant the sacred wood.

You are my children, I too am God’s child,

And we have both together been defiled,

But God hangs with us, on the hallowed tree

That we might both be rescued, both be free.’

 

Isaiah 51:17-20

Rouse yourself, rouse yourself!

Stand up, O Jerusalem,

you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord

the cup of his wrath,

who have drunk to the dregs

the bowl of staggering.

18 

There is no one to guide her

among all the children she has borne;

there is no one to take her by the hand

among all the children she has brought up.

19 

These two things have befallen you

—who will grieve with you?—

devastation and destruction, famine and sword—

who will comfort you?[c]

20 

Your children have fainted,

they lie at the head of every street

like an antelope in a net;

they are full of the wrath of the Lord,

the rebuke of your God.

Mark 14:32-42

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba,[h] Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[i] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

 

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St. Francis drops in on my gig!

St. Francis Jongleur de Dieu

Here is another poem from my forthcoming collection After Prayer. I’m posting this one on St. Francis’s day as it’s a poem for Francis the poet, a song for Francis the singer. Indeed its a sonnet that started life as a song!

St.Francis loved the Jongleurs and  Troubadours who passed through Assisi. As a young man he played and sang for his friends. After his conversion and calling he carried through that joy of making verse and music, and his canticle of the sun, composed and sung towards the end of his life, is testimony to that. Years ago, when I was a novice in the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis (the Anglican Franciscans) it happened that I was offered a set of pub gigs that clashed with some of the Third Order prayer meetings. I asked what I should do, and without a moment’s hesitation my novice master said to me “Play the gigs Malcolm, that’s where Francis would be.”

So this poem started life as the song I sang years ago on that first St. Francis day Gig, but after a while I realised the song was asking to be a sonnet so that’s what it became.

I should mention that “Hard-Core Troubadour” is the title of a great song by Steve Earle (but it’s not about St. Francis!)

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears. Otherwise click on the title of the sonnet and it will take you to the player on the audioboo page.

St. Francis drops in on my gig

I didn’t think I’d find you in this place

I guess you must have slipped in at the back

I’m lifting my guitar out of its case

But seeing you I nearly put it back!

You smile and say that it’s your local too,

You know the ins and outs of inns like this,

The people here have hidden wounds like you,

And you have bidden them to hidden bliss.

‘Francis I’ve only straggled after you,

I’ve never really caught your melody,

The joy you bring when every note rings true…’

But you just laugh and say ‘play one for me!’

This one’s for you then, on the road once more,

The first, the last, the hard-core troubadour.

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A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

20110619-000808.jpg

Continuing my cycle of sonnets for the Church year, here is one for Trinity Sunday which I am posting the day before, in case people would like to make use of it tomorrow.

By coming to us as the Son, revealing to us the Father, and sending to us the Spirit, Jesus revealed the deepest mystery; that God is not distant and alone, but is three in one, a communion of love who comes to make His home with us.

The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making.

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or on the title of the poem.

Readers who are interested in my use of the word ‘coinherent’ will find out more by watching the video of my talk about the British theologian Charles Williams, a friend and fellow inkling of CS Lewis which can be found here.

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

 

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Ode to St. Cecilia

cecilia-4The 22nd of November is the feast day of St. Cecilia, Christian Martyr and Patron Saint of music. A few years ago I was commissioned by JAC Redford the LA-based composer and orchestrater, to write an Ode to St. Cecilia for a new piece of music he has in turn been commissioned to write, which had its premiere in LA in 2013.

I published the Ode myself this year in my new collection Parable and Paradox and here, for this year’s St. Cecilia’s day is the text of my ode and a recording of my reading of it. In the recording I also talk a little about the inspiration and how it came to be written. I hope you enjoy it. Margot Krebs Neale has contributed the beautiful image which follows the poem As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.


Ode to St. Cecilia

You rested briefly here Cecilia

In this good ground, the Roman catacomb:

Its rounded vaults are rich with sudden sound

As pilgrims hymn you through the darkened air.

For you made music in your martyrdom,

Transposed the passion of your wedding night

To angel-given garlands, wreathed in light.

In all your three days dying you made room

For beautiful abundance, gifts and giving,

Your death was blessing and your passing praise,

As you gave way to grace,

Like music that still lives within its dying

And gives in giving place.

 

Cecilia, give way to grace again,

Transmute it into music for us all:

Music to stir and call the sleeping soul,

And set a counterpoint to all our pain,

To bless our senses in their very essence

And undergird our sorrow in good ground.

Music to summon undeserved abundance,

Unlooked for overbrimming, rich and strong,

The unexpected plenitude of sound

Becoming song.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

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Discerning the tune: Two new poems for our times

Cantus Firmus

I am presently working on a new sequence of poems written in response to George Herbert’s beautiful poem Prayer. I have long felt that each of the twenty-seven images and metaphor for prayer in that exquisite sonnet could itself be the seed and beginning of a new poem and so I have decided to make my own twenty-seven sonnet response to his masterpiece.

I was going to wait a while to share any of these, but I felt the two most recent ones I have composed, responding to Herbert’s two lines

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

Kind of tune that all things hear and fear

might be helpful for some of my readers in the current stressful and disturbing cycle of news. For when I began the poem on how prayer does not ignore ‘the six-days world’ the busy weekday world, the constant cycles of unnerving news, the noise and pain and clamour of daily life, but rather seeks to transpose that dissonance into the key of love, I realised that I was articulating something I had been feeling for a long time about the damaging and depressing effect of barrages of bad news unprayed through, accumulating as a kind of uninterpreted cacophony in the mind. We need the gift of transposition and the power to hear, however tiny it might seem, the eternal tuning fork that sounds Christ’s love in the midst of things, the cantus firmus that grounds the music the cosmos. As I wrote this I also realised that my poems were haunted by Over the Rhine‘s beautiful song ‘All of it was Music’.

If you have been as disturbed and distressed as I have in recent days I hope the following two sonnets will help.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title. There is a little interference on the recording in the prose introduction to the first poem, but it clears up for the poem itself.

The six days world transposing in an hour

 

Twenty-four seven in ‘the six days world’,

In endless cycles of unnerving news,

Relentlessly our restless hurts are hurled

Through empty cyber-space. Is there no muse

To make of all that pain an elegy,

Or in those waves of white noise to discern

Christ’s inner cantus firmus, that deep tone

That might give rise at last to harmony?

 

We may not seal it off or drown it out,

Nor close our hearts down in the hour of prayer,

But listening through dissonance and doubt,

Wait in the space between, until we hear

A change of key, a secret chord disclosed,

A kind of tune, and all the world transposed.

A Kind Of Tune

 

A kind of tune, a music everywhere

And nowhere. Love’s long lovely undersong,

A trace in time, a grace-note in the air,

Borne to us from the place where we belong

On every passing breeze and in the breath

Of every creature. All things hear and fear,

For faintly, through our fall, we too may hear

The strong song of the Son that undoes death.

 

And one day we will hear it unimpaired:

The joy of all the sorrowful, the song

Of all the saints who cry ‘how long’,

The hidden hope of all who have despaired.

He sang it to his mother in the womb

And now it echoes from his empty tomb.

 

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