petals from blown roses on the grass

May 26, 2013

Two things. Firstly, this.

I’ve only just found it, and I cannot believe I’ve only just found it. One of my favourite composers, putting one of my favourite poets to music. This always seems to happen with Britten; the man has a knack for picking the poets I love. Auden and Wilfred Owen, and now Hopkins. The deeper I dig into his music, the more painful and beautiful it becomes. I’ve been listening to extract-samples from this, his Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, by two choirs in particular, and have been tucked up in my chair for half an hour alternately hyperventilating, screaming silently and then swearing breathlessly. Because it is fucking beautiful. It hurts me to listen to it, it is that perfect.

I’ve been thinking about the word glory lately, particularly in light of C.S. Lewis’ Weight of Glory and Surprised By Joy, partially for an assignment for one of my papers and partially because there are things I can identify in my life that seem to fit with Lewis’ descriptions of joy or desire or “that unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves”.*

Because yes, I’ve felt and often feel things that I personally name glory, when faced with something that is more beautiful than the word beauty can bear to hold in, light so much more enormous than the soul can contain, a gasp so much bigger than my body can take, a joy so vast and so incredible that it hurts me because beauty- no, not beauty, much more than just the finicky taste of the word, much more than just beauty- glory, hurts to behold and take in. And it’s soul-consuming. And it’s incredible, and all the joy I’ve ever understood has to ache like this, to ache and laugh like this at the same time. And I feel like Hopkins understood this.

(“The heart rears wings bold and bolder
and hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.”)


Of course, this might not be entirely what Lewis is talking about. I think it might be- some of the details sound similar- but to be honest, other than some of the beginning details, I find myself disagreeing with the conclusions he comes to about desire. I’m doubtful of some of the reasoning he buttresses it around with. I don’t see this thing I sometimes feel as a desire for something else at all- or even for the thing itself, necessarily- so perhaps it’s not what Lewis speaks of, after all. It does feel like a kind of enormous longing or hunger- but it isn’t that, because at the same time it’s not longing or hungering or the act of either, it just is. Is itself, whatever it may be. Or perhaps it may simply be that I’ve not lived anywhere near as long as he has, and I’ve not scrutinised this joy or desire or whatever other names he uses in perhaps quite as- logical, or rational, or dry a manner. Or even gone purposely and systematically out to seek it the way he seems to have, working through the options of chasing it down. I- don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m not claiming to be wiser than C.S. Lewis on any level, I’m just drawing tentative parallels between the thing he describes and the thing I feel. Premature, perhaps. But it does sound- similar.

I don’t know. It just happens to me. Things are just beautiful and they tear my soul apart generously as bread. That’s the world. And if I look hard enough, if I’m paying attention, it underlies everything I see and it breaks me with its being-thereness, with what-it-is. Or sometimes, like with Britten or with Arvo Pärt, it comes up to me and takes me by the shoulders and shakes me hard and says, look at me. And when I look at it I cannot help but see glory, without trying, because it’s just there– soul-achingly beautiful.

So. Yeah. That’s what I’m getting out of Britten’s Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. That’s why I’m sitting in my chair silently screaming. Because the inside of me is being opened up by something more real and more here than the word beauty can ever handle or encompass.

Needless to say I’m, uh, buying the CD tonight.



Secondly. A piece of music that soothes me more than most anything else, when I need soothing:


This is Morten Lauridsen’s Contre qui, rose. It’s slower than the version I’m used to, and not quite as perfectly balanced in sound- but the slowness works here, too, and it’s still an incredibly beautiful piece of music. I’ve been listening to it often for- over a year, now; moreover, it’s the music for my phone’s alarm clock, and I’m still not sick of it. It is also a setting of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke to music. A poem I have only just discovered the lyrics to (both in French and in translation).

This late-discovery business is not uncommon for me. I tend to get music I’m unfamiliar with by composers I enjoy, and then slowly work through the pieces over time, savouring and discovering as I go. There’s still one song I haven’t listened to yet on that exact same CD I bought over a year ago; I am taking my time here, ‘kay. In any case, I’m pretty sure I must’ve flicked over the lyrics to Lauridsen’s Les Chansons de Roses (there are five of them, a song cycle) at some stage early on, but I must’ve promptly forgotten because the translation of this came as a complete surprise to me. It reads thus:


Against whom, rose,
have you assumed these thorns?
Is it your too fragile joy
that forced you to become
this armed thing?

But from whom does it protect you,
this exaggerated defence?
How many enemies have I
lifted from you who did not fear it at all.
On the contrary, from summer to autumn
you wound the affection
that is given you.



It’s a good reminder.





* From “Afterword to the Third Edition,” The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism.

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