Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

John Donne – Batter my heart, three-person’d God

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 18 June, 2018

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Adrian Henri – Love is

From the Liverpool Poems

Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is.

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don’t put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you’re feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is
Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love’s what’s there when you are away from me
Love is…

Adrian Henri –  Love is

Malcolm DB Munro
Saturday 16 June, 2018

Used under the Fair Use clause, Section 107 of the Copyright Act

                                               Dedicated to Mavis Taylor

When I lived in Cape Town I applied for entrance to the School of Theatre at The University of Cape Town. Mavis was Head of the Department at that time. To gain entrance you had to present three pieces from the empty theatre stage in the Department’s theatre to the Acceptance Panel. There were three as I remember. Mavis was one of them. I was accepted. This poem was one of Mavis’ favourites, she later told me. Mavis and I became close friends until the end of her life.

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John Donne – Death be not proud

                                The Holy Sonnets
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Malcolm DB Munro
Saturday 16 June, 2018

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Gerard Manley Hopkins – The Windhover

                                     To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Gerard Manley Hopkins –  The Windhover
Malcolm DB Munro
Saturday 16 June, 2018
in the public domain

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Soul of Man Expressed

I was in our local best independently owned bookstore in our city some months ago, when a piece of music came over the music system that caught my ear. Normally the bookstore ran the local nonprofit radio station and at the times at which I am habitually visiting the bookstore the radio is broadcasting a national news programmed.

On this occasion the music continued and did not break as would a normal musical interlude in the news programme. That and the nature of the music led me to ask the young man at the counter what the music was. He told me.

I continued to listen and was greatly moved. I completed my purchases and left the store. In the car I was sobbing aloud, repeating to myself over and over again, “it is so beautiful, so beautiful”.

Driving home the sobbing died down but the tremendous sense of well being induced by the music stayed with me. Bursting through the door of the house, I rushed to my wife and started sobbing all over again as I told of the beautiful piece of music I had just heard.

The piece of music was a track from the last CD, Red Cross Disciple of Christ Today, made shortly before its creator and performed died, John Fahey. The track is “Untitled with Rain.”  The track is available as a download here.

I had quite a few vinyls of John Fahey, among them were  Voice of the Turtle on Tacoma and Requia and Other Compositions for Guitar Solo on Vanguard. Along with Leo Kottke and, to a much lesser extent, Louden Wainwright III, he was a favourite.

So when I heard the piece in the bookstore, I was familiar with John Fahey’s music, but I didn’t recognize it as his.

I tell you of this incident because I had a conversation some weeks ago with a colleague who is both deeply religious and spiritual. I want to share with him, and you, my spirituality but I cannot do it with words.  For me, no words of mine express such things.

I cannot write of it, nor even less, can I talk of my spirituality. However, I can share with you the words and, especially music, of others that express for me what it is to be spiritual. What follows then is a selection of the words and music which have touched and spoken to my spirituality. There is no hierarchy suggested in the order of my selection. I instead seek to give a sense of the range of words and music which deeply, and even profoundly, affected me when I first read and heard them and which still do.

Milton’s “On His Blindness”, expresses it.

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present             5
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best      10
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

The last line has always resonated with me, and resonates with me on almost a daily basis. “They also serve who only stand and waite.”

Many of the poems of John Donne do likewise. As do many of those of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“Still Falls the Rain” by Edith Sitwell moves me even as I write these words. There are many other poets whose poems have a power to move me very deeply. Is the effect on me simply aesthetic? Or is it spiritual? I don’t know if I care to examine the difference.

I shall quote on the first stanza of “Still Falls the Rain”. You may discover the full poem here. The best you can do is listen to Dame Edith recite the poem herself.

Still falls the rain –
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss –
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

One more poem, for the moment. “Submarines” by Ruth Miller I learned by heart, along with a number of other poems, during my years in South Africa. Let me quote the closing section of the poem.

While persistent tides wait
Secretly to smash
Those whom dark hell’s privacy corrupts

As can be seen by the music example I started out with, certain forms of music have a power to move me very deeply indeed. Such works will have an effect on me which stays with me for days and days.
That effect can be described as a sense of inner stillness, of inner peace, of tranquility. Certain pieces of music never fail to have this effect on me.

As I have said already there is no real hierarchy attached to my discussion the pieces of the music which follows. With some the affect on me is much greater than others, but since all of the music mentioned moves me profoundly, it is only a matter of to what degree. I have mixed the time scale up so that older and more modern pieces can stand side by side.

In this age of U-Tube, MP3 and I-Pods, I urge you to listen to the music mentioned below on as good equipment as you possibly can.

“Vingt Regard Sur l’Enfant Jesus,” by Olivier Messiaen has to be first among a number of firsts I would have to mention. A collection of 20 piano pieces written in 1944, the effect on me is so powerful that several years can only elapse between one hearing and another.

The French word “regard” is rather difficult to translate into English since “looks” in no way captures the sense the French have in mind. “Gaze” is adequate but conveys neither the devotion nor longing implicit in the French. “Contemplation” may come closer. One gives up and settles for the French title

I have over my life sung with choirs, including in South Africa, which naturally exposes one to actually performing examples of the music I am discussing.

Top among these a song by Orland Gibbons, “The Silver Swan.” It is worth giving complete the words of the song.

The silver Swan, who living had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
“More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.”

The song was written in 1612 but is as fresh and newly minted as if written yesterday. The slow pace at which the words unfold as they are sung in five part harmony measure the pace of a funeral cortege in all its beauty and majesty. A body on its way to the ground,

“Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust” (Genesis, 3.19)

When my brother died some years ago I recited at his funeral, the song from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Many who attended came to ask where the words came from. I was surprised how few were familiar with its source. Shakespeare wonderfully echoes his Genesis source.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

Be it the words I mention or the music, neither are offered as a sense of death. Rather, in contemplating someone else’s death, our own life is renewed and reinvigorated. The poems, the songs, the music discussed and quoted here is for me life affirming. In listening and reading I feel more alive but also renewed. Somehow cares and worries lift. A sense of wholeness is restored.

The next piece I learned of only some ten or so years ago and so is fairly recent to my listening experience. It is quite pointless to discuss its musical qualities as listening to it reveals them.

The piece in question, The Protecting Veil, for cello and strings was composed in 1988 by John Tavener. I have no doubt that other recordings exist but the one I know is with cellist Steven Isserlis.

The title refers to the Orthodox feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, which commemorates the apparition of Mary the Theotokos in the early 10th century at the Blachernae Palace church at Vlacherni, Constantinople.

You might expect me to mention in my discussion any one of the great masses. And it is true they do move me. But their great sculptural, cathedral like quality awes me as a listener. Examples are masses by Bach, by Beethoven and by Mozart. For my taste they overwhelm. I enjoy them technically, musically but I can place none of them here. I prefer as we shall see the shorter pieces.

I do very much enjoy Verdi’s Requiem.  In fact, many composers have composed requiems, including Mozart, and I have many favourites. First among these surely has to be the Verdi.

The Seven Last Words From the Cross: a number of composers have set music around this theme. Joseph Haydn’s is the one that has stolen and still steals my heart.

Above all others, there is one Catholic form which has inspired for me the greatest and most profound music written. That form is the Stabat Mater.

The deep majesty, the solemnity, the dignity: all that is greatest and best to be human is captured in this music. One stands above all others, that of Pergolesi. Read a translation of the Latin text at some point. To get a sense of what is being sung.

Despite my injunction of earlier, listen to this performance from U-Tube of the Pergolesi by Andreas Scholl and Barbara Bonney

I am not a man given to sentimentality. I defy you, though, to listen to this piece through dry-eyed, to not be profoundly moved.

I cannot.

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