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Category: reflections on love

“Death is nothing at all…” – Henry Scott Holland

St_Paul's_by_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd_(early_19th_century)

     “St Paul’s Cathedral 

 

           Thomas Hosmer Shepherd


                          _____________

 

upon learning of the recent demise 

of my younger sister, my only sibling,

a friend sent me the following passage

 


    “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away 

     into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains 

     exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we 

     lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we 

     were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar 

     name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put 

     no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or 

     sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we 

     enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my 

     name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be 

     spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. 

     Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. 

     There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death 

     but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because 

     I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, 

     somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing 

     is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was 

     before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we 

     meet again!”


 

it is usually presented as a poem, but 

was part of a sermon, rather, given by 

Henry Scott Holland, the very pastor 

who composed it, at St Paul’s 

Cathedral, in London, after the death 

of Edward Vll

 

listen

 


it expresses well the experience I’ve

had with others of my beloved 

departed

 

intimations of my sister are already 

popping up in my reality, soon, I told 

another friend, I’ll be talking to her 

more often than when she was not 

gone

 

much as is the case with my father, 

for instance, away some 30 years 

now, but an abiding presence, 

however mystical, still, and, 

it appears, forever

 

I consider myself profoundly 

blessed

 


R ! chard

 

 

 

“Requiem” – Antonin Dvorak

1024px-Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg


        Chartres Cathedral – View from south-east


                           _____________________

 

                                               for Donna

 


a few days before a dear friend was due 

to pass away, which is to say with medical 

assistance, I had taped from television, 

whether coincidentally or not, Antonin 

Dvorak’s “Requiem”, though I hadn’t yet 

listened to it

 

on the day of the procedure, I lit candles, 

put the music on, and sat in attendance 

as its flights of angels s[a]ng [her] to

[her] rest

 

the piece is somber, probably reserved for

somber occasions, but upon their instance, 

the work is glorious, and salutary

 

here, it is performed at the Cathedral

of Chartres, suffused with the solemnity 

and the splendour appropriate to such 

a fateful moment   

 

may you journey forth in peace, 

dear friend

 

 

R ! chard 

 

 

 

“The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross” – Joseph Haydn

lord-s-crucifixion-1990.jpg!Large.jpg

     Lord´s Crucifixion (1990) 

 

           George Stefanescu

 

               ____________

 

 

my sister is not well, her situation, 

though blessed throughout with 

grace, is dire, in such moments I 

turn to music for consolation, for 

courage, and for a serene 

acquiescence to whatever might 

be the outcome, the hour that I 

spend thus with her becomes in

that light a meditation, a mass,

private prayer

 

I’ve lit a trinity of candles in her

honour, one nearby for our dad,

gone these already thirty years, 

on something of an altar I’ve 

fashioned, however all the while 

unconsciously, about my 

fireplace, by their flickering 

silence, I find a place for 

solemn contemplation 

 

The Seven Last Words of Our

Saviour on the Cross is to my 

mind Haydn’s greatest 

masterpiece, its subject is

self-explanatory, but you might

want to read again here what I 

wrote about it earlier for 

greater context 

 

it is sung in the Oratorio de la

Santa Cueva, the Oratory of 

the Holy Cave, in Cádiz, Spain

for which it had been originally

composed

 

it is transcendent

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

Symphony no 7 – Anton Bruckner

cathedral-1991.jpg!Large.jpg

   Cathedral (1991) 

 

          George Stefanescu

 

                          _________

 

 

it’s funny, upon the imminent demise of

of my only sister, I chose to listen to,

instinctively, for solace, Bruckner’s 

Symphony no 7, lighting candles,

everywhere in my apartment, at 

dusk, like settings, for my somber

reveries

 

listen, you might understand why

 

Bruckner was a profoundly Catholic

composer, composing liturgical

works expressive of his profound

beliefs, fit, aurally, for, indeed,

cathedrals, ceremonial, arresting

 

his 7th, grand and utterly convincing,

is not an ineffective consolation, is

not an easily disregarded promise 

of something, however ephemerally

manifested, beyond the meagre

aspirations of merely faith

 

and which finally produces an epiphany,

a human understanding, that just being,

just responding to our condition, within

the confines of our station, is, 

eventually, nothing short of grace

 

art, in other words, is praying

 

 

R ! chard

String Quartet no 15, Opus 144 – Dmitri Shostakovich

title-page-and-key-monogram-of-the-mountain-lover.jpg!Large

     Title page and key monogram of “The Mountain Lover” (c. 1895)

                                         

          Aubrey Beardsley

 

               ___________

 

 

after John passed away, I read, at a

gathering we had for him, something 

that I’d written in his honour, it began,

adagios always remind me of John,

John was a dancer, he walked like

one

  

a few days later, immersed as I

was in memories of him while 

mechanically washing some 

dishes, I heard, from symphony 

I’d put on in the background to

keep me company in my reverie,

its adagio

 

I dried my hands, put my arms

around myself, and we danced

to the end of the movement, I’d  

found, I understood, utterly, I

believed, miraculously, a key to

the very hereafter, adagios

would henceforth always

remind me of John

 

some time later, flipping aimlessly

through string quartets, of

Shostakovich among others, I  

happened upon this one, his 15th

String Quartet, Opus 144, which

had, to my astonishment, not one,

not two, not three, not even four

nor five, but six whole adagios,

this was John talking, I knew,

I’ve loved it ever since

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst:

 

   String Quartet no 15, Opus 144

 

        l – Elegy: Adagio  

      ll – Serenade: Adagio  

     lll – Intermezzo: Adagio

     lV – Nocturne: Adagio

      V – Funeral March: Adagio molto

    Vl – Epilogue: Adagio

 

                              Dmitri Shostakovich

from act 4, scene 3 – Othello

jealousy-from-the-series-the-green-room-1907.jpg!Large

 

when Desdemona learns that Othello

suspects her of adultery, she asks 

her maidservant

 

      Dost thou in conscience think,–tell me, Emilia,–
      That there be women do abuse their husbands
      In such gross kind?

 

Emilia, older, wiser, replies

 

      There be some such, no question.

 

 

       But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
       If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
       And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
       Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
       Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
       Or scant our former having in despite;
       Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
       Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
       Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
       And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
       As husbands have. What is it that they do
       When they change us for others? Is it sport?
       I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
       I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
       It is so too: and have not we affections,
       Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
       Then let them use us well: else let them know,
       The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

 

 

fall” in the second verse, for this is 

indeed a poem, in iambic pentameter, 

could easily be replaced by “fail

nearly even calls out for it, 

homophones but for the timbre of 

their vowels 

 

say that their husbands slack, she says,

then lists the several manners in which 

husbands might betray their marital 

duties, by “foreign, she means “other“, 

foreign to the family circle  

 

laps“, incidentally, is a wonderful 

metaphor to accompany “treasures,

suggesting intimate physical contact,

much more so, say, than hands

would’ve, for instance, been

 

restraint” means conditions, stress,

impositions  

 

scant our former having“, to diminish

that which formerly had been given,

of either material or psychological 

goods – “having” is a noun here, not

a participle

 

in despite, which is to say, “out of 

spite

 

galls“, a synecdoche for internal

organs, a synecdoche, the word

that means a part which signifies

the whole  

 

affection” is “lust

 

 

we’re equal partners, Shakespeare 

says, men and women, in a shared 

humanity, indeed Shakespeare is

one of the first Humanists after  

centuries of religious subjugation,

centuries of the suppression of

independent thought, a defining

notion, not incidentally, of the

Renaissance

 

 

R ! chard

 

“A Delicate Balance” – Edward Albee

in-the-hospital-1901.jpg!Large

      “Theatre Drama 

 

             Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

 
                           ___________

  

there are only a very few 20th-Century

American playwrights who’ve weathered

the rigours of time, two with several 

successes, Eugene O’Neill, and 

Tennessee Williams, but only one to 

tower above those two with only one 

work to outmatch them, Edward Albee,

his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

is every inch a king

 

this is not an impossible feat, Margaret

Mitchell wrote her only book, Gone 

with the Wind“, a contemporary Iliad“,

which will find its rightful place again 

in world literature, note, when our own 

too reverberant still times cede to the 

concerns of another, less pertinently 

fraught era, like reading “War and

Peace“, for instance, now that 

Napoleon is long gone

 

Gone with the Wind, quick, name 

another 20th-Century novel to top it, 

seconds are too long, Gone with 

the Windis in our bloodstream, 

like Walt Disney or Marilyn Monroe

even if you’ve never read it, which 

you should

 

but Edward Albee wrote another play

which deserves some attention, and 

with redoubtable performances from 

both the consummate ever Katharine 

Hepburn, and from our own Canadian 

tower of unutterable talent, Kate Reid

abetted by masterful presentations 

from no less than the revered Paul 

Scofield and the iconic Joseph Cotten 

when their supporting numbers come 

up, here is a show to watch for, if 

nothing else, those individual stellar

contributions

 

but A Delicate Balance“, also an 

incontestable masterpiece, is about 

friendship, and tells a lesson you’ll

not soon forget, friendship is more 

than, for better or for worse, just 

knowing each other, it says, an 

idiosyncratic, indeed recurrent,

Albee theme

 

 

cinematography, note, is, here

dreadful, though actually in that 

manner conceived, however 

improbably, by an otherwise 

noteworthy director, you’ll even 

think they’ve shrunk his frame

 

but visual style shouldn’t let you 

forego the play’s profound substance, 

nor the triumphant work of its illustrious 

cast, at the very top, mostly, of their 

considerable, even defining, powers

 

watch

 

 

R ! chard

happy birthday, Joni Mitchell

clouds

  Nuages / Clouds 

 

      Fernand Léger

 

         _________

 

                         for Lajla, and, of course, Joni

 

in my German class in Dresden, I

was asked, since I was from 

Canada, to translate into German

a Canadian song, my teacher

suggested something of Joni 

Mitchell, someone she profoundly,

she said, admired, was I the one

to choose Both Sides Now“, or 

was she, I can’t remember, but 

that was the song I translated


Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way


But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all”

it could be my anthem

 

 

as it happened, Lajla, my teacher, who

who has since become a dear friend, 

in fact, meine beste deutsche Freundin, 

didn’t let me finish reading meinen 

übergesetzten Text for the class, it 

would’ve been too long

 

I still regret the unrecognized work

I did, but mostly I rue the fact that  

the other students never got to 

hear the sublime ending of the

song

 

 

R ! chard

 

at the movies – “Phaedra”

phaedra-and-hippolytus-1802.jpg

     “Phaedra and Hippolytus (1802) 

            Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

                   _____________

Phaedra, according to Greek myth, fell
in love with her stepson, and, of course,
ruined, for everyone, everything 

she’s been represented in music by
composers from, at least, Rameau,
1733, to, here, now, Benjamin Britten,  
1976by way of even Tangerine
Dream, 1973, however peripherally, 
and the hits just keep on coming

in literature, the story goes back to 
Euripides, 480 – 406 BCE, through
Jean Racine, 1639 – 1699, poet at 
the court of Louis XlV, the version 
that I studied in French Literature,
along with, in English, Shakespeare,
who was doing courtiers, rather, 
and royalty there, then, incidentally, 
instead of the Continent’s iconic 
Mediterranean figures – it remains 
my favourite play in my mother 
tongue, next to, for me, its only 
other equal, Cyrano de Bergerac

but I’d never seen a production of 
Phaedra until this searing, 
modern, rendition, set in, relatively 
contemporary, Greece, London, 
and Paris, with the irrepressible, 
the irresistible, Melina Mercouri
torrid temptress, the very goddess 
Herahereand Anthony Perkins
perfect as her suitor, a youth still, 
pulsing with a young man’s 
unbridled intentions

sparks fly, from moment to 
incendiary moment – I had often 
to pause to catch my breath – 
portents of an inescapable, and 
eventually epic, indeed mythic, 
apocalypse

watch, if you dare


R ! chard

why I believe in music, or “I Was Born For This” – Austin Wintory

joan-of-arc-on-corronation-of-charles-vii-in-the-cathedral-of-reims.jpg!Large

  “Joan of Arc upon Coronation of Charles VII in the Cathedral of Reims (1854) 

        Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

                ____________________

many years ago, while I was volunteering 
at our hospital’s palliative care unit, nearby, 
recently installed as a response to, among 
other pressing preoccupations, but most 
urgently then, the AIDS crisis, I was asked 
to sit by a lady in profound distress, her 
family, Western Buddhists, would go to 
lunch while I would sit by her to comfort 
her as much as I could

she was dishevelled, of course, completely 
disconcerted, all ajitter, lost, and evidently
confused, in her profound isolation, not to 
mention in the crumpled state of her 
harried bedunable to communicate, or
reason

I found a chair, sat by her with earnest 
concentration, my partner had died 
there, only recently, on that very unit, 
and I was expressing, to all of those 
concerned in his unparalleled care, 
my unlimited appreciation

I lay a hand gently upon her arm, to let
her feel, at least, the safety that my 
touch could allow, to let it settle on 
her, however removed might be her 
remaining consciousness, began to 
sing quietly a chant I’d been intoning   
from a creed I’d turned to for comfort 
in my own personal anguish, at the 
loss of my own friend, a call, an 
invocation, the continuous iteration 
of a line that brought solace, Om Nama
Shivaya, I prayed, over and over again, 
with the greatest intention, whatever
that phrase might’ve, I’ve forgotten, 
meant

she relented, found her space, little by
little she became, as though grace had 
descended upon her, calm, by however  
infinitesimal degrees, while I continued, 
now, my hopeful, helpful, it appeared,
manifestly mystical, intervention

she had become restful, I’d 
accomplished essentially, I gathered, 
my primary mission, though I 
continued, with some sense, perhaps
even a glow, of personal pridemy 
soulful incantation

then in a voice not much louder than a 
whisper, but much less distraught than 
a moan, she began to join in with row, 
row, row your boat, tunefully, over and 
over again, accommodating herself,
though, naturally, exceedingly weakly,   
to my rhythm, I felt I was experiencing,  
right there, and then, through the    
power of cadence, a miracle

when I looked back, upon hearing 
behind me a rustle, standing at the 
door was her family, wrapped in 
equal consternation 


here’s something with someone singing 
in several inscrutable languages for 
most of us, mostly, words from historical 
texts, in Greek, Latin, Olde English, 
Japanese, and French, I Was Born For 
This

that title, of one of the segments of 
longer work, Journey“, by a contemporary 
composer, Austin Wintoryis indeed a 
translation of Joan of Arc‘s words on the 
cross, “Ne me plaignez pas. C’est pour cela 
que je suis née.”, do not pity me, she says, 
I was born for this, Joan of Arc, my own 
personal Jesus

Shostakovich has an entire symphony,
his 14thcomposed of music to 
accompany classic poems, all in a 
variety of foreign, to him, tongues, but
translated back into Russian for his 
purpose in this particular, and not 
uncommon, instance, nevertheless 
pointed reference to music as superior
more direct, communication – note, here, 
the word, communication – it, the 14th,
is profound, extraordinary, read here 
first, then listen


R ! chard