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 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.