(Offertory for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2016)
Summer is passing, even as our climate here in Massachusetts clings to a pattern of dry yet humid weather that has dominated for much of the season. The sun tells the tale without ambiguity: this morning it rose after 6:00, and it will be dark by the time my child is tucked into bed this evening.
Autumn leads us into times of harvest and work, thanksgiving and celebration, new endeavors and a new year in many traditions. As we make our preparations, listen below for a memory of the preceding season in the church year, Easter. The anthem is the second of Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Trinity Parish’s choir returns for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 18 September).
The words are of course by George Herbert, famous Welsh-born Anglican priest and poet, all of whose poetry was published immediately following his death in 1633 in a single book, reprinted numerous times during the seventeenth century, The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations.
Setting aside any bawdy connotations of the title’s final word, its somewhat archaic secondary definition (“something said quickly and suddenly,” or, from en.wiktionary.org, “the uttering of a short, sudden exclamation or prayer, or the exclamation or prayer uttered”) is an apt characterization of Vaughan Williams’ setting. Accompanied by a lush pastoral orchestration, the melody is elaborate but direct, inflected with modal colors sometimes associated with English and other folk music. The narrator speaks personally to the risen Christ, as to a close confidant. The choir intones wordlessly over the final stanza, and when they join the soloist for the last line, the declamation is transfigured into the close of a great Anglican hymn of praise.
I got me flowers to strew 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 Sunne 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 sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.
– George Herbert (second part of “Easter”, from The Temple, 1633)