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CLXXXXIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Ancient men marveled at the regularity of the movements of the heavens, which enabled them to predict the paths of the planets.  It was not until modern times though that we were able fully to appreciate just how mathematical are the laws that govern the operations of the physical universe—all of it, not just the visible parts.  Music is mathematics applied to pitch and time.  It is more than that, but not less.  So poets from Milton to MacDonald to Lewis and Tolkien have, in an appropriate metaphor indeed, portrayed creation as a song or a dance.  It was in Job all along: at creation the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

 

COMMENTARY, JOB 38:7

The Novas were the trumpets,

The Black Holes played the bass,

The Comets were the clarinets,

The concert hall was Space.

 

The Stars were violins,

The Angels sang in thirds,

The Planets danced a minuet,

Jehovah wrote the words.

 

And still they sing together,

And with the inner ears

The clear-souled man can listen yet:

The music of the spheres.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CLXV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Music and poetry in the old days were closely allied.  One of my great goals as a writer is to overcome the estrangement that the modern world has caused between them.

Capture9THE MINSTREL

The minstrel struck his golden harp;

The music sounded strong and clear,

Like edges keen and arrows sharp

In hands of warriors bold.

Like rivers swift and mountains sheer,

Like the North wind blowing cold,

It stirred the very blood to hear

Him strike his harp of gold.

 

And then the bard began to sing:

If all alone his melody

Could build so bright and shimmering

A vision in the heart,

What charms of might and mystery

The spoken spell, the subtle art,

The wisdom and the wizardry

Of wordcraft could impart!

 

So deep was the enchantment laid,

So masterful his minstrelsy,

So strong the music that he made,

The story that he told,

That all the gathered chivalry

Would hearken ‘til the night was old,

Entranced and still, whenever he

Took up his harp of gold.

Capture5Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 30, 2016, from Square Halo Books! 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CXIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

One of Martin Luther’s most serious disciples was Johan Sebastian Bach, the greatest contrapuntist (some would say the greatest composer) who ever lived.  This is the first of a number of attempts to get something of the quality of Bach’s music down in words—a task not ever to be completely achieved!  How do you express the idea of, not just one note interacting with other notes to form the harmony, but whole melodies interacting with each other?  The acrostic, among other things, tries to capture something of the multilayered nature of Bach’s work.

Bach

PortraitBach2

Joining word to pitch and pitch to time,

Sounds line up to flow into the air.

Bach could make whole lines with lines to rhyme

And flow in streams of thought beyond compare.

Christ gave him this grace, to let us hear

His angels’ songs with (now!) the fleshly ear.

PortraitBach3

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments

We have a guest blogger today, a man who would probably have been appalled at the very idea of appearing in a blog: my mentor and former pastor Dr. Alan Dan Orme, the founder of University Church in Athens, GA.  This passage is from his sermon “The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments,” on 2 Tim. 4:13.  Paul asks Timothy,

When you come, bring the cloak I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”

First a work of explanation:  “Common grace” is grace that God gives to all men, as opposed to “special” or “saving” grace, which only comes to those who put their faith in Christ.  Common grace is what allows even fallen and sinful human beings to do things that are positively good, including the goods of culture.  Here then is Dr. Orme’s commentary on Paul’s request.  And here is my question:  When is the last time you heard something like this from the pulpit?  And a second which is like unto it:  Is your answer not an index of how sick American Christianity has become?  Here’s the excerpt:

The house Dr. Orme rebuilt, the current meeting place of University Church

The house Dr. Orme rebuilt, the current meeting place of University Church

Even in the year of his death, Paul was intending on studying general literature which was the common heritage of human beings—of the people of the Lord and the people of the world, alike.

In principle, Paul here gives an example of a realm of human activity and civilization that was one step higher than the body and creaturely comforts: it is the realm of the mind. Paul wanted to exercise his mind and learn from that mass of literature that God had given to the world, not by inspiration, as he had the Scriptures, but by common grace.

This realm of thinking tends to justify a university education and the educated professions, but it also justifies your being interested in secular learning even over and above any help it might be as an aid to interpreting and applying the Bible. We do not know all the books Paul had in his library, but he quotes from poetry, drama, history, and fiction throughout his writings.

"The Books": This is Codex Alexandrinus, one of the earliest copies of the whole Bible.

“The Books”: This is Codex Alexandrinus, one of the earliest copies of the whole Bible.

In your lifetime pilgrimage, do not be afraid to expose yourself to the scrolls. It is God’s world, and all of these things belong to us who are his children. You don’t need to be like Jerome and his friend Rufinus, who copied out and studied the classics and then lied a little bit that they were too spiritual to read such stuff. You can admit it!

Love the English language. Frequently use the dictionary. Read some history. One of the wonderful gifts that God has given us by common grace is the gift of culture and civilization. Advance to the limit of your abilities in appreciation for fine music. Make Christ Lord over the realm of culture and the mind, and then with thanksgiving to the Lord of all creation, responsibly enjoy his gifts. Free yourself from the froth that is on television and feed yourself with something that will enhance your mind, your life, and your Christian walk.

Monet's "Water Lilies":  Fine Art and Music . . .

Monet’s “Water Lilies”: Fine Art and Music . . .

But do this responsibly. This realm must be used according to God’s commandments, as must be the realm of the senses and the body. But it is always in subordination to the spiritual, and the eternal, and the welfare of your everlasting soul.

Dr. Alan Dan Orme, “The Cloak, the Books, and the Parchments,” 2 Tim. 4:13, 3/9/03

For more of Dr. Orme’s sermons (and some by current blogger Donald T. Williams), go to http://www.theuniversitychurch.org.  To order Dr. Williams’s books, ($15.00 + shipping), go to  https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Music to Write By: Ron Block’s Walking Song

“This is getting wilder and wilder,” said Syme, as he sat down in a chair. “Who are these people who provide cold pheasant and Burgundy, and green clothes and Bibles? Do they provide everything?”

“Yes, sir, everything,” said the attendant gravely. “Shall I help you on with your costume?”

“Oh, hitch the bally thing on!” said Syme impatiently.

But though he affected to despise the mummery, he felt a curious freedom and naturalness in his movements as the blue and gold garment fell about him; and when he found that he had to wear a sword, it stirred a boyish dream. As he passed out of the room he flung the folds across his shoulder with a gesture, his sword stood out at an angle, and he had all the swagger of a troubadour. For these disguises did not disguise, but reveal.[1]

You can’t judge an album by its cover.  But there’s at least one detail on the cover of Ron Block’s Walking Song that actually says something about its content: Ron’s hat.

As Ron tells the story of the outfit he wore in the video for Alison Krauss and Union Station’s “Paper Airplane,” when first the costume designer set out the clothes he was to wear – flat cap included – he balked.  Was it was really him?  Could he pull it off?  The costume designer knew her art, though: when he’d put the outfit on, Ron found, to his delight, that it suited him well.  In fact, since Paper Airplane’s release, I don’t recall even once seeing Ron without a flat cap.

RB Walking SongSometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see things about ourselves that we cannot see in a mirror.  Ron probably wouldn’t have worn the flat cap on the cover of Walking Song had the costume designer not seen something about Ron’s features that he could not see himself.  More profoundly, Ron wouldn’t have written Walking Song had Rebecca Reynolds, Ron’s friend and lyricist, not seen layers of Ron – the musician, the composer, the creator – that he couldn’t see himself.  The result is that Ron has never sounded so good – not in his playing for Alison Krauss and Union Station (a.k.a. AKUS), not on his two previous solo albums – as he sounds on Walking Song.

Collaboration, of course, is nothing new for Ron Block.  He’s been a member of AKUS, one of the world’s great bands, for over two decades.  His exquisite musicianship on guitar and banjo has become an essential part of the band’s signature sound, and he’s written some of the best songs in the AKUS catalogue.  It is impressive that there could be undiscovered layers to a musician whose work had met success and critical acclaim and, more importantly, achieved deep artistic integrity.

Ron’s achievements, though, great as they had been, narrowed the scope of his artistry.  In a way, his three solo albums capture stages on a journey out of a beautifully-tended, but rather small, garden, out into more open pastures.  His solo debut, 2001’s Faraway Land, is a collection of well-crafted songs, impeccably played – all of which would fit comfortably into an AKUS playlist.  His second solo effort, 2007’s DoorWay, is a very different album.  About half of the songs would sound at home on an AKUS album; the other half sound like attempts to break out of the garden.  Much as I love DoorWay[2], as a collection it suffers from unevenness. Perhaps as a result of over-exertion in conceptualizing and composing the album, the recording sessions didn’t quite catch fire.  With one notable exception: the two-part instrumental suite, “Secret of the Woods/I See Thee Nevermore,” did catch fire in the recording.  The suite is a stunning musical interpretation of Anodos’s encounter with the spirit of the beech-tree in George MacDonald’s Phantastes.  As lyricist, Ron always had the ability to distill the great themes from MacDonald and C. S. Lewis, and capture them in brief but profound statements that confront the will and reform the imagination.  But “Secret of the Woods/I See Thee Nevermore” highlighted for the first time Ron’s ability to paint a picture, in music, of another author’s images. It was a sign of a unique gift that would develop more fully on Walking Song.

As it turned out, the development of Ron’s gift for painting in music needed a lyricist – a very good lyricist, who could sketch in words pictures for Ron to apply colors to, and also serve as a reliable friend and muse, suggesting which colors to apply where.  Rebecca Reynolds was, and is, exactly that lyricist.  Rarely will you hear a composer and lyricist so fluent in one another’s images and idioms.  For example, on “Walking Song,” Rebecca’s lyric tells the story of a bachelor farmer, embarking on a courtship.  The lines – like “a freckled girl makes a friendly sight / might I borrow half your smile? / You’re soft as stars on a lonely night / you’re as light as a valley mile” – are gorgeous in their own right.  And Ron’s musical setting – melody, arrangement, playing, and singing – sounds like a man rediscovering a long-forgotten grasshopper lightness in his step, perfectly matching the lyric:

For the way grows young

When a freckled girl

Shares a walking song with you.

To take another example, the sixteen bars of instrumental introduction to “Chase Me to the Ocean” sound as refreshing as a sea at peace.  The perfection of the sea-painting extends down to tiny details: like in measures seven and fifteen, where Ron plays a fragile little down-slide, making his guitar sound like the breaking of a tiny wave upon the shore.  The sea-in-strings intro prepares the listener perfectly for the lines that follow:

All we know is growing new, in the turning of the tide.

Genre-wise, Walking Song ranges from bluegrass to Celtic to acoustic art song.  Yet none of the songs sounds contrived, nor does any one sound the least bit out of place or character.  The cumulative effect of Walking Song’s genre spectrum is curious.  Given that Celtic music lay at the roots of bluegrass, Ron shows here the organic unity of the genres, and does for the whole of bluegrass’s family tree what Treebeard could do for the trees of Fangorn: rouse them root, trunk, branch and twig.   Such are the wonders that a man given a new outfit, who feels in it “a curious freedom and naturalness in his movements,” may perform.

In a nutshell, then:

Album: Walking Song

Artist: Ron Block

Year of release: 2013

Genre: Bluegrass/Celtic/Acoustic art-song

Mood: Brisk-reflective

Pathos: Yes

Good for: Driving, walking, sitting at home, painting, writing. (Usually an album with well-crafted words isn’t good for that last purpose, but Walking Song, though not the least bit muzaky, is unobtrusive enough that it’ll let you write.  Sort of like a friend that knows when to speak, and when to hold silence.)

Availability: Available for order or download here.


[1] G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, ch. xiv (1908).

[2] It helped me through some of the most trying and pivotal months of my life.