Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, April 24, 2006

William Cowper (b. 1731 - d. 1800)

April 25th is the anniversary of the death of William Cowper. The following was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


It is a place where poets crowned may feel the heart's decaying;
It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying;
Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence languish:
Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish.

O poets, from a maniac's tongue was poured the deathless singing!
O Christians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!
O men, this man in brotherhood your weary paths beguiling,
Groaned inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling!

And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story,
How discord on the music fell and darkness on the glory,
And how when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted,

He shall be strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation,
And bow the meekest Christian down in meeker adoration;
Nor ever shall he be, in praise, by wise or good forsaken,
Named softly as the household name of one whom God hath taken.

With quiet sadness and no gloom I learn to think upon him,
With meekness that is gratefulness to God whose heaven hath won him,
Who suffered once the madness-cloud to His own love to blind him,
But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could find him;

And wrought within his shattered brain such quick poetic senses
As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences:
The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his within its number,
And silent shadows from the trees refreshed him like a slumber.

Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
Uplooking to his human eyes with sylvan tendernesses:
The very world, by God's constraint, from falsehood's ways removing,
Its women and its men became, beside him, true and loving.

And though, in blindness, he remained unconscious of that guiding,
And things provided came without the sweet sense of providing,
He testified this solemn truth, while phrenzy desolated,
—Nor man nor nature satisfies whom only God created.

Like a sick child that knoweth not his mother while she blesses
And drops upon his burning brow the coolness of her kisses,—
That turns his fevered eyes around—“My mother! where's my mother?”—
As if such tender words and deeds could come from any other!—

The fever gone, with leaps of heart he sees her bending o'er him,
Her face all pale from watchful love, the unweary love she bore him!
Thus woke the poet from the dream his life's long fever gave him,
Beneath those deep pathetic Eyes which closed in death to save him.

Thus? oh, not thus! no type of earth can image that awaking,
Wherein he scarcely heard the chant of seraphs, round him breaking,
Or felt the new immortal throb of soul from body parted,
But felt those eyes alone, and knew—“My Saviour! not deserted!”

Deserted! Who hath dreamt that when the cross in darkness rested,
Upon the Victim's hidden face no love was manifested?
What frantic hands outstretched have e'er the atoning drops averted?
What tears have washed them from the soul, that one should be deserted?

Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam's sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father:
Yea, once, Immanuel's orphaned cry His universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”

It went up from the Holy's lips amid His lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
That earth's worst phrenzies, marring hope, should mar not hope's fruition,
And I, on Cowper's grave, should see his rapture in a vision.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Music for Lent

We are now reaching the end of Lent, and though this is a little late, I thought I would give some recommendations for music to listen to during Lent and especially Holy Week. If nothing else, you could purchase them in preparation for next year.

St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach - J. S. Bach is the master, and every music library should include his works. As the title says, this is Bach’s work based on Matthew’s account of our Lord’s death. I wish I could recommend a particular version, but I only have a DVD of the work. You might want to visit amazon and read through some of the recommendations of various versions. Or you could just do what I normally do, and that is buy whatever version is cheapest.

Passio by Arvo Pärt - Arvo Pärt is a modern composer from Estonia. His style is a little unusual, but his works are very rewarding if you take time to orient yourself to them. This is his work based on the account of Christ’s death in the Gospel of John. This work, like much of his work, is very melancholic, often echoing the Eastern Orthodox tradition of his homeland.

The Gates of Repentance: Byzantine Hymns of Great Lent by Fr. Apostolos Hill – The title says exactly what it is: a cycle of hymns taken from the Byzantine rites of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, flowing from the beginning to the end of the “Great Lent” (as opposed to the Little Pascha or Lent, which the Western Tradition calls “Advent”). The hymns are sung in Byzantine chant style, but are unusual in that they are sung in English. This cd is only available at liturgica.com, so far as I know. They have apparently re-done the cd since I purchased it about three years ago, adding some new hymns. Once again, the work will be unusual to those not used to the Byzantine chant style, but is nonetheless very beautiful.

Music for Holy Week by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – Many are familiar with the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, performed every Christmas and broadcast on NPR and worldwide, and which many churches have taken to imitating. But they have recorded many other wonderful cd’s and dvd’s, of which this is one. There is a diversity of pieces here in English and Latin, including the familiar “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and a well-known piece by Thomas Tallis, “If Ye Love Me”.

The Loving Kind by Cindy Morgan – This is one for you Contemporary Christian Music fans. I listen to very little CCM anymore, but among the cd’s I still pop in every once in a while, the music of Cindy Morgan is among my favorites. Her first two cd’s were too dance and R&B-ish for my tastes, but her music began improving with the third cd. I usually listen to this one at least once during Holy Week every year. This is the height of her musical achievements in my opinion, with Listen coming in a close second (she just released a new cd, which I haven’t heard). Those who listen to CCM radio might be familiar with a couple of the tunes, but the entire album is a conceptual album based on the last eight days of Christ’s life. The highlight of the cd is a duet with Wes King based on the Last Supper, with Wes playing classical guitar as well as singing.

If you are a CCM person, and have no interest in my first four recommendations, let me encourage you to take a brave step and purchase one of those first four cd’s. It might not be what you are normally drawn to, but I think it can only do us good to spend time experiencing the great classical music of the world. Put them in the cd player, turn down the lights, get a nice glass of red wine, and allow the music to lead you in meditating upon our Lord’s bitter suffering and death.