Thirty-One: When My Light Is Low
I used to tell people that autumn was my favorite season, but I've come to realize in the last couple of years that really isn't true. There's a certain romance to the season that I can't escape. But it's also always a dark time for me. As I've come to realize that I'm very much impacted by the season and lower light, I've also learned to cling more strongly to God's promises when my spirits are low.
My brother wrote a song last year and the first time I listened to it, I cried and cried. It perfectly captures my feelings in seasons like this one. The words are Tennyson's and the melody all Daniel. Siblings are a mysterious thing - they are so oddly similar to you. The good thing about it is that when my brother expresses his soul though music, a medium I'm not gifted in, it sometimes feels like he is sharing my heart as well.
So on a dark, autumnal day, I hope you enjoy these words and this music as much as I do. I find a certain refuge in them and I hope they bring you solace, as well.
"Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being, slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is Life, a Fury slinging flame.
But what of that? My darken'd ways
Shall ring with music all the same;
To breathe my loss is more than fame,
To utter love more sweet than praise.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last―far off―at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."
I now have one book down in my Boston reading project. The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro was a pretty good start to the year and if everything I read is as enjoyable and quick as it was, I may be able to start calling myself as avid a reader as my husband.
The Art Forger follows a young female artist's decision to forge a fictional member of the stolen Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum paintings. I won't give any more details on the plot because it's pretty intriguing (I couldn't put it down!) and decently written (keeping in mind the gratuitous sex scenes), but for anyone who loves the art world both present and past, this book is pretty terrific. It's light reading and though I was able to predict the closing twist fairly quickly, it was entirely fascinating. The book seamlessly blurs history and fiction, allowing the reader to step into two worlds embellished with imaginary details by the author - the late 19th century world of Isabella's Paris and the early 21st century world of the forger's Garner Museum, Newbury Street, and MoMA.
As I'm hoping to use literature to influence and inspire my view of Boston, The Art Forger was perfect for my reading project. From the moment I first arrived in Boston, I regrettably lacked an awareness, and therefore appreciation, of what everyone else seemed to believe was Boston's "charm." My family members, close friends, new acquaintances, and anyone with any experience of the city constantly talked about how cute, beautiful, and mostly "charming" it was. But for some reason, all I could see was salt weathered buildings and trash on the sidewalks. Nothing about it captured my imagination or my fancy, not even Cambridge! Everything looked old, but not in the good way, and run down, but not in the hipster-picture worthy way. The city may have been historic, but it felt dreary.
What The Art Forger gave me, though, was interesting characters to populate the city. Shapiro's cast is believable and she describes places beautifully and accurately. With almost every page, I found myself thinking, "I've been there. I know what she's talking about!" or "I totally walk past that person every day!" And instead of seeing the boring Boston of my first impressions, through The Art Forager I started to see a story I wanted more of. Listening to her describe the poshness of Newbury Street, the innards of the Gardner museum, and the transitioning streets of South Boston all helped give both a familiarity and mystery to these places I encounter. Though it may seem silly, what especially drew me in was her description of the misery which calls itself the MBTA's Silver Line. I have had so many horrific experiences with that sham of a subway line and to read that those experiences are very much a part of the fabric of the city helped make it not only somewhat more bearable, but almost poetic.
After all, what are cities if not shared experiences? The past and present gets all mixed up and twisted together in the space you share every day with your neighbors. If you can see the beauty of those shared experiences and spaces, or at least the mystery of them, then you are bound to develop a heart for that city. Finally, after a year of waiting for it, my imagination has been sparked and I am seeing in Boston a whole host of things worthy of my attention and appreciation.
Next up: Poems and Other Writings, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My paraphrase of the back page synopsis: Lots of emotional and legendary old poems by an epic American Romantic. This will be interesting since I've never before been able to get into poetry. Hopefully the Charles River will inspire me as much as it did Henry!
Why I'm excited to read it: While I've had a hard time with poetry, I really do want to understand and love it. Longfellow is one of the best known Cantabrigians, so I think I owe it to the area to give him a shot. Plus, Trey and I found his grave the other day and nothing inspires one to read old dead poets like an old dead poet's grave!
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weav’d in my low devout melancholy,
Thou which good, hast, yea art treasury,
All changing unchang’d Ancient of days;
But do not, with a vile crown of frail bayes,
Reward my muses with sincerity,
But what thy thorny crown gain’d, that give me,
A crown of Glory, which doth flower always;
The ends crown our works, but thou crown’st our ends,
For, at our end begins our endless rest;
The first last end, now zealously possessed,
With a strong sober thirst, my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high,
Salvation to all that will is nigh.
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is All every where,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, not thou five, yet he’will wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which deaths force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceiv’st, conceiv’d; yea thou art now
Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother;
Thou’hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves his well belov’d imprisonment,
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th’ Inn no room?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars, and wisemen will travel to prevent
Th’effect of Herods jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my Soule, with thy faiths eyes, how he
Which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss him, and with him into Egypt go,
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
With his kind mother who partakes thy woe,
Joseph turn back; see where your child doth sit,
Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
Which himself on the Doctors did bestow;
The Word but lately could not speak, and lo
It suddenly speaks wonders, whence comes it,
That all which was, and all which should be writ,
A shallow seeming child, should deeply know?
His Godhead was not soul to his manhood,
Nor had time mellowed him to this ripeness,
But as for one which hath a long task, ‘tis good,
With the Sun to begin his business,
He in his ages morning thus began
By miracles exceeding power of man.
By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious, hate;
In both affections many to him ran,
But Oh! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a Fate,
Measuring self-lifes infinity to a span,
Nay to an inch. Lo, where condemned he
Bears his own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, he must bear more and die.
Now thou art lifted up, draw me to thee,
And at thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul.
Moist with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul
Shall (though she not be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) be
Freed by that drop, from being starv’d, hard, or foul,
And life, by this death abled, shall control
Death, whom thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death, bring misery,
If in thy little brook my name thou enroll,
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which ‘twas;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sins sleep, and deaths soon from me pass,
That wak’t from both, I again risen may
Salute the last, and everlasting day.
Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose just tears, or tribulation
Have purely washed, or burnt your drossie clay;
Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which he treads upon,
Nor doth he by ascending, show alone,
But first he, and he first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me,
Mild Lamb, which with thy blood, hast mark’d the path;
Bright Torch, which shin’st, that I the way may see,
Oh, with thy own blood quench thy own just wrath,
And if thy holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.
"He was a friend to man, and he lived
In a house by the side of the road." - Homer
There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice hen the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my house by the side of the road-
It's here the race of men go by.
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I;
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
A Vagabond Song, By Bliss Carman
There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood-
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.
There is something in October set the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
(I've been reading a selection of poetry recently and just stumbled across this one. I like it a lot.)
To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his grayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;-
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around-
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air-
Comes a still voice- Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourish'd thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock,
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world - with kings,
The powerful of the earth - the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribb'd and ancient as the sun,- the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods; rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, pour'd round all,
Old Ocean's grey and melancholy waste,-
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.- Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
Save his own dashings - yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep - the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest: and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the grey-headed man-
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side
By those who in their turn shall follow them.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustain'd and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.