Tag Archives: transposition

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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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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