I’ll be honest. I don’t know what to think here. I’ve been staring at this screen for a solid five minutes wondering what to say.
It’s not that it’s a bad piece. It is sweet – first, it’s set to a lovely Missouri Harmony tune (Devotion), which we first sang back in early January.
And it’s Wordsworth, one of my favorite English poets, lyrics excerpted from his poem “The Solitary Reaper.”
So the pieces aren’t bad. And they even go well together, despite the one verse of ABAB rhyme in a AABB song:
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
and sings a melancholy strain:
O listen! for the vale profound
is overflowing with the sound.
Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
for old, unhappy far-off things,
and for the battles long ago.
Or is it some more humble lay,
familiar matter of today?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
that once has been, may be again?
I listened, motionless and still,
and, as I mounted up the hill,
the music in my heart I bore
long after it was heard no more.
I think the reason I have nothing to say, really, is that I don’t have a clue as to what theological or spiritual purpose this might have. In other words, why is it in a hymnal, and not just a songbook? Like, I get why we have some more complex or troubling songs in the hymnal – it’s songs of our living tradition. But this seems, well, like a really lovely song you might hear at a coffeehouse or folksy open mic or a shape note sing-along.
I don’t know what to say. I hope others can tease out meaning where I cannot.
What I can do is share one of my favorite paintings in the permanent collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art, “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth. To be honest, it’s the image I have in my head every time I see this poem or this song.