Wednesday, February 04, 2004

One Mystical Song 

The words of a beautiful 17th century poem have been running through my head lately, in the form set to music by Vaughan Williams in Five Mystical Songs. The poem is in a religious context, yet is equally beautiful whether read in that context or simply as stand alone poetry. And although words can sometimes get lost beneath music that seems to outdo them, in this case Vaughan Williams setting catches and enhances the feel quite magically.

Love bade me welcome
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

We may have come a long way in our scientific and technological knowledge since those words were written. Yet strip all that aside, and I can’t help thinking that if were I to meet, say, a 17th century poet face to face, I would find it would be him teaching me and not the other way round.

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