Thursday, December 28, 2006

Spem in alium, Westron wynde

There is no image in my collection that I can match with the sublime, vertiginous richness and depth of Tallis's "Spem in alium". The polyphony contains forty parts; no-one knows how he even achieved the notation of it with the materials of the time, or indeed how he was able to conceive of it at all.
John Taverner's (the original, with an 'r') "Western wind mass" is of a more attenuated beauty. It is based on the melody of the anonymous "Westron wynde" lyric from the 16th century.

"Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Chryste, that my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde againe."
Spare, enigmatic, timeless. A world of longing and loneliness in that. Perhaps. I always read it that way, anyway.
These sounds and words can move me deeply, bypassing the intellect, accessing feeling. But, when I started writing this, I was considering how hard I have to work sometimes to feel a seemingly normal level of compassion toward other people. Anger, or pride, or perhaps fear (but of what? fear that I might one day require compassion extended toward me?), or a kind of lethargy of spirit, a sense of unreality about others, when only my ego seems reliably real, seem to get in the way. I thought of Kenneth Branagh's depiction of the Nazi Heydrich in the film "Conspiracy", who, having designed, organised, and sealed the fate of those who were to be murdered in the Final Solution, puts on a record of a Schubert quintet, weeping at its beauty, beauty, he says, that "will tear your heart out!"
But because we can't always feel things we should at the moments when we should, doesn't mean we needn't hunger and thirst after them as good things. There's a bit in "The Screwtape Letters" (and I can't quote it accurately because the book's upstairs in a box somewhere...), where the devil Screwtape urges his nephew to take advantage of the human creatures' failing in prayer, because when they pray for something, compassion for example, they expect instantly to feel compassionate, and when they don't assume that the prayer hasn't worked.
Yet compassion will come, did come. Only wait, corral the tigers of wrath, stroke them with care, placate them with titbits but don't let them loose, cut through the wadding of lethargic fearfulness with simple action. It comes unbidden, dropping slow, at times of cooled serenity and reflection, or like a whizzing wind in moments of warmth and sudden openness and fellow-feeling.

1 comment:

andy said...

Beautiful, Lucy. Thank you for your comment back at my place which led me here. This is just a brief flying visit to say hello, but I'll be back.

Oh, and yes: "..a kind of lethargy of spirit..." Something I wonder about too, feel guilty about, but can't explain. Like you, I find action - of almost any kind - is the best antidote. Somehow when one starts to act, it creates a momentum which can then be channelled and used by those yet to be born feelings - pump priming is the phrase which comes to mind, even though that sounds far too mechanical.

There, I wasn't going to stop for long, but your writing inspired me :-)