Resurrection: Another Advent with Herbert

Today’s poem, like yesterday’s, is a two-parter, and there is a well-documented evolution of it in the two manuscripts known to scholars as “W” and “B”. The changes are well described well by Drury (pp. 142-143) who likes this poem much more than Good Friday. The published version merges what are presented as two poems in the earlier manuscripts. Think of it as a volley-ball set-up – the first three stanzas are popping the ball into the air and the second three knock it over the net for a point. The first part address the heart and lute for a song, and the last three stanzas are that song.

It is more than likely that Herbert had a tune in mind, perhaps one of his own making, as Izzak Walton describes him as a musician of considerable skill.

Easter

Rise heart; thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
                    Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                    With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
                    With all thy art,
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
                    Who bore the same.
His stretchèd sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort, both heart and lute, and twist a song
                    Pleasant and long;
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
                    And multiplied;
O let thy blessèd Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

    I got me flowers to straw thy way; 
I got me boughs off many a tree: 
    But thou wast up by break of day, 
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee. 

    The Sun arising in the East,         
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume; 
    If they should offer to contest 
With thy arising, they presume. 

    Can there be any day but this, 
Though many suns to shine endeavour?       
    We count three hundred, but we miss: 
There is but one, and that one ever.

The metre for the first three stanzas is 10.4.10.4.10.10, and for the last three it is 8.8.8.8, and the rhyme schemes are AABBCC and DEDE, respectively. If one is looking for a tune for the first half, SANDON, used with Unto the Hills and Lead, Kindly Light would work. 8888 is Long Metre (“LM”) and Ancient and Modern (2013) has no fewer than 56 hymn tunes of that length, including TALLIS’S CANON and OLD HUNDREDTH. Perhaps more interesting is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of the second part as one of his Five Mystical Songs (1911):

In the first part the poet address his heart and his lute. There is a sense of movement in that Herbert frequently starts a sentence on one line and continues it on the next – a practice called enjambment. The resurrection of Jesus results in the rising of the the poet, too, and his death and resurrection result in the alchemical transformation of the heart into dust and then gold. The lute, made of wood and strings of catgut (not really from cats, but goats and sheep) is said to have been taught by the wood of the cross and the sinews of Christ’s body stretched out – and so Herbert commands it to “celebrate this day.” In the third and last stanza of the first part heart and lute consort together to sing a song, and Herbert invokes the Holy Spirit to complete what they lack.

In the second part the poet sings about collecting flowers and boughs, just as Jesus was welcomed on Palm Sunday, only this time Jesus was up earlier and has already brought “sweets” or fragrant things with him – new life, salvation, communion with the divine. Not even the sun can compete with this rising, and the day of resurrection is greater than any other.

The key thing about the resurrection of Jesus is that it begins the process of God’s renewal of the cosmos. “Behold, I am making all things new” says the one seated on the throne in Revelation 21, and it begins with the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the defeat of death, because love is stronger than death. The fullness of the transformation is not yet here, but it proceeds in the world through God’s grace and in the body of Christ, which is the church. This is why it is the Day of Days, outshining any sun. Every Sunday is a little Easter, memorializing the resurrection of Jesus, and that is why the followers of Jesus meet weekly on that day.

Herbert’s poem captures the transcendent significance of Easter. It was utterly unexpected. No one was waiting at the tomb for his rising. All his disciples had fled, and even the women who had watched him die assumed he would remain dead. When they experienced him as risen, it changed their understanding of his death, and of themselves.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
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