Friday, February 26, 2010

Ashes: IV

Nothing much to report today, apart from the cold that is making the rounds in my apartment. However, as I got the stomach flu, I am exempt––at least that's what I keep telling the Lord in our ongoing conversations.

(Speaking of which, that reminds me of a part in the book Cryptonomicon in which Goto Dengo, a Japanese soldier/prisoner recuperating in a Catholic hospital in the Philippines, begins to have discussion-arguments with the crucifix on his wall. The Lord always wins, remaining silent. Finally, going stir-crazy, Dengo tries to figure out what "INRI"––the superscript above the cross––is supposed to mean. One of the possibilities he considers is strangely reminiscent of a story once told me by a cleric, who shall remain anonymous: "Initiate Nail Removal Immediately" was Goto's guess.)

Drat. That wasn't particularly Lenten, was it? Well, let's make reparation thus:

The music is really too glorious to fit the season, but the text is suitably humble (from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith):
Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te
Deus Israel
qui irasceris
et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis
Domine Deus
Creator coeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram
Or, in English:
I have never put my hope in any other but in you,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man.
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness.
Composed by (who else?) Thomas Tallis, this motet, Spem in alium, is set for eight five-part choirs, singing simultaneously. How a composer can juggle 40 independent lines of music without disaster is beyond me... far, far beyond me.

Part four (of six) of our Eliot series follows:


Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos*

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

*The words, "Sovegna vos," come from a fragment of Dante's Purgatorio. Interestingly, they were originally intended to serve as a portion of the epigraph for Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock––though, ultimately, he chose a different quote. The fragment,
'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor'.
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.
reads, in Eliot's own translation:
'be mindful in due time of my pain'.
Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.
Thus, in Ash Wednesday, the words are a call to remembrance: "Be mindful [of me/us?]..." For more information regarding the influence of Dante on this text, see this article.

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