Here is another beautiful prayer – and when I first read the lyrics, I thought “why do I not use this more often?” And then I sang it.
Now don’t get me wrong: I love the Tallis Canon. It’s particularly beautiful when done in three parts in a big echo-y chapel so that the bell tones resonate and last a few moments after the voices cease their singing. Plus, I’m a fan of 16th century English sacred music, especially since writing a paper on 16th century English sacred music for a class entitled Anglican Devotional Poetry and Literature 1550-1650, and having listened to and fallen in love with a fair bit of the music in the process. Yes, in case it wasn’t perfectly clear already, I am a geek.
My problem with the Tallis Canon for these 19th century lyrics by Matthew Arnold is that, once again, it doesn’t really fit. Here’s this soulful, contemplative lyric:
Calm soul of all things, make it mine
to feel, amid the city’s jar,
that there abides a peace of thine
I did not make, and cannot mar.
The will to neither strive nor cry,
the power to feel with others, give.
Calm, calm me more; nor let me die
before I have begun to live.
And it’s set to a reasonably jolly tune. Now don’t get me wrong, there are jollier tunes in the hymnal for sure, but this is meant to be a calm, meditative plea of the heart. This tune just doesn’t cut it for me.
What would I suggest in its place? Truth From Above – used in 289, Creative Love, Our Thanks We Give. That tune has a soulfulness that I think is called for here. It’s not quite as familiar, but it feels like the kind of thing we’d gather around candles at dusk to sing, or maybe hear wafting from within the cloister walls, or perhaps hauntingly sung by Lorena McKennitt or Enya.
I do know that I need this prayer today, despite sitting in the quiet of my sister’s house in a small Victorian village on this snowy Friday between the holidays. So much is jarring right now – and so I pray for the peace and calm, even if for a moment.