Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Cappella Friday: Walking

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

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I woke up this morning with a song in my head that I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. This song is not an unusual one…if you are familiar with hymns, you’d probably say that you’ve heard this one countless times in church.^ In the Garden (And he walks with me) is a gospel song written by American songwriter Charles Austin Miles (1868 – 1946), a former pharmacist who served as editor and manager at Hall-Mack publishers for 37 years. The story goes that he wrote it in the winter of 1912, after sitting for a time in his basement, with no windows, meditating on a scripture passage…(John 20:1-18). The subject is Mary Magdalene, coming upon the tomb of Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion. Miles was inspired by this event, and wrote the following poem.

In the Garden
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

Refrain

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Yes, this IS a poem. Miles set it to music later that same day and it went on to become one of the best known hymns of the era. It has been covered by Elvis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, and The Charlie Daniels Band.^^

Look at the rhyme scheme (a b c b). Check out the meter…if you know the hymn well, you can’t stop from swaying with the sing-song scansion in this. Further, the imagery of the garden over an entire day is there…dew on the roses, birds hush their singing, the night is falling. I feel the joy in the words, no music needed.

But…

I’ve a got a version of this poem/song that always improves my mood.

The group Acappella is an ongoing part of the ministry http://acappella.org/blog/ . The group has been in existence since the mid-eighties. They’ve had a number of personnel changes over the years. The version of In the Garden was part of a 1994 album, Hymns for all the World. This is not your grandmother’s gospel version. Check out the “walking” bass line throughout this recording, a very cool thing to add to this song, given the lyrics.

Give it a listen. You won’t be sorry.
This is a great musical setting for the poem, and the music serves a purpose to refresh the words.

See what I mean?

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^ I’m certain of my reasons for thinking of this song and the particular version on the video is my “go-to” version. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I have faith that things beyond my control can be taken care of…Without preaching…we’ll leave it at that.

^^ I know, I was surprised too.

Poet in Mind: John Clare

John Clare*, the Northamptonshire peasant poet was born on July 13, 1793. This is remarkable, because last Friday (July 13th), I was considering a Poet in Mind post, and thought of John Clare, whom I had discovered quite by accident several years ago. I was perusing the stacks of my library’s poetry section, something I enjoy because I discover new things, and I saw a collection of John Clare poetry. Out of curiosity, I checked it out and was not sorry for it.

John Clare was born into an illiterate farming family. He did receive some formal schooling, probably enough to function in a class-oriented society. He worked as a farm labourer to earn money. The fact that much of his poetry focuses on the natural world leads me to think he probably wrote much of his poetry in his head while watching nature in the fields he worked. He was also of the Romantic style.

Summer
By John Clare

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover’s breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover’s breast;
I’ll lean upon her breast and I’ll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o’sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

The Romantic style can be summed up as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”**, with the additional work and “pain” of using strict meter and form. It’s not easy expressing your emotions in such structural forms, and the Romantic Movement recognized that as a means to develop “good” poetry.

Trial by fire, as it were.

John Clare was always a lesser known poet, perhaps because of his humble background. He actually did publish during his lifetime, though he could not make a living as a poet. He had to continue with a variety of manual labor jobs to support his wife and family. It was a struggle that contributed to poor health, heavy drinking and bouts of depression. However, he wrote rather prolifically. About love and nature, Rural life, his passions***, animals, birds, insects.

First Love
By John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

His depression and declining mental health eventually led him to admitting himself to an asylum where he primarily lived the last 27 years of his life. After his death in 1864, his poetry languished for the remainder of the 19th century, but Clare’s poetry was rediscovered in the late 20th century, and he was recognized for his keen descriptions of nature, the rural English countryside, and his dedicated practice of the Romantic style.

There is a John Clare Society
Several of his collections are posted online at John Clare Info.

To close, I selected two poems that juxtapose different views of hope. Both demonstrate the power of poetry, the struggles that we face, and how we can meet the challenges.

TO HOPE.
By John Clare

AH, smiling cherub! cheating Hope, adieu!

No more I’ll listen to your pleasing themes;

No more your flattering scenes with joy renew,

For ah, I’ve found them all delusive dreams:

Yes, mere delusions all; therefore, adieu!

No more shall you this aching heart beguile;

No more your fleeting joys will I pursue,

That mock’d my sorrows when they seem’d to smile,

And flatter’d tales that never will be true:

Tales, only told to aggravate distress

And make me at my fate the more repine,

By whispering joys I never can possess,

And painting scenes that never can be mine.

THE INSTINCT OF HOPE
By John Clare
Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
‘Tis nature’s prophesy that such will be,
And everything seems struggling to explain
The close sealed volume of its mystery.
Time wandering onward keeps its usual pace
As seeming anxious of eternity,
To meet that calm and find a resting place.
E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?

*John Clare image by Edward Scriven, after William Hilton
stipple engraving, published 1821
NPG D5221
© National Portrait Gallery, London

**William Wordsworth. He knew a thing or two about Romantic poetry.

***He had a lifelong crush on his first love, Mary Joyce. She is a frequent subject of his love poetry, and obviously his muse. He was never allowed to court her formally, because they were of different classes in society. He continued to write about her throughout his life, and was apparently devastated to learn of her death in 1838. This is supposed to have contributed to his depression and eventual self-imposed admission to an asylum.

Siren

She wanted that life, she thought,
After wading in the water up and down the beach
Her feet embedding in the moving sand.
The allure of the ocean beyond pulled her further out
To that pale white line at the edge
Of the blue-green horizon,
Until there was no place to stand,
only piled surf
And depths of a world she could not comprehend.

With remnants of foam,
The continuing washes of the waves
Moved her ashore in the sand
like a child’s tantrum from anger to tears,
Bits of seaweed in her hair,
and a breathless sobbing
that no mother can placate.

A cappella Friday: Yes!

OK…Here’s an interesting thought.

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

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The band Yes was/is an incredibly talented group from the early seventies and into the eighties (I know some form of them still tours, but we are talking hey day here). The musicianship of their albums is breathtaking. Symphonic rock, synthesizers, and intricate melodies all cemented their legacy. If you’ve never heard Roundabout, check it out.

Their 90125 album from 1983 was a shift to a more pop-oriented format. On that album was a unique song “Leave It“, done primarily a cappella. It definitely made an impression on me. There are some great harmonies in this song, along with some provoking lyrics.

I can feel no sense of measure,
no illusions as we take
refuge in young man’s pleasure,
breaking down the dreams
we make real.

Leave It lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., DOWNTOWN MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC, CARLIN AMERICA INC

Listen especially to scat sounds the vocalists make. Groundbreaking for the time (early beat box).

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye bad
Hello, hello heaven.

This is poetry…done with melody.

Old Greensboro

There is a crossroad there,
but you might miss it
if you drive too fast;
you won’t miss the town
because it is no longer there.
There is shady hollow a mile or so past
at the bottom of the hill.

-An easy landmark to let you know you’ve gone too far-

This countryside is hilly and forested
with Loblolly pines,
fast growing trees that reclaim ground,
and the ground is
red Yazoo clay that is always moving.

That should tell you something,

I heard tales of gambling and roughshod characters,
when this was a destination place
or on the way to somewhere.
That was before the railroad came in two towns over
and took away its “on the way to” status,
and people left.

Eventually, you had to be from there to know.

The roadsign holds the name “Greensboro”
about eight feet high,
and an old clapboard house stands
at the intersection.

It needs paint.

Behind the house
and to the right
is a well-tended cemetery
with a new tin-roof chapel. There are no ghosts.
My people tell of a confederate general buried
-in Old Greensboro-

He must have been from there.

However improbable

This summer
you are growing tomatoes in a planter,
not knowing whether you’ve placed
it in the right spot. Last year
you tried planting in the flower bed
but there was too much shade and there
were never any tomatoes. The year before,
you planted too late, and it was a rainy cool summer,
and the plant did not thrive. So this year,
you’ve decided to try using a movable planter.
You can target the sunniest place and control
the amount of water you’ve given the
plant. If there is too little sun,
or if the weather turns out to be
poor, then you can move the planter
for a better day. It is imprinted
on your mind that after you’ve exhausted all
other possibilities, that which remains,
however improbable,
must be the solution^.

And you like fresh tomatoes.

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^paraphrasing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Setting anchor means you will stay for awhile

in a place where you must take a ferry
to get to the airport, and there are no
roads into or out of town, one must be
able to deal with the structure of life
as it begins and ends each day. rivers
flow downhill to the ocean, clear fresh
water pushing the salt water away, over a
mile or more off shore. i saw Pegasus made
of ice, half-submerged, attempting to make a
single jump out of the water just ahead of the
whale that spewed a spray from its blowhole, and
in the background, someone says something about a
repositioning – that which moves from place to place
for a need. the waitress has been speaking about her
dreams for travel. she has very white straight teeth
that smile without any help from her red lips. her nails
are neatly manicured with fleshtone polish, a continuous
shade. The sea is blue when the sun is out. i want to know
to know how she does it; how she remains in such an isolated
place and look up to ask the question. hanging from her neck is
a silver and onyx pendant with an anchor embossed on the front
and i understand.