I just found this from about two years ago, before my days of blogging when I used to simply bore BOC-ers with my ramblings in the membership newsletter. Although this was my ‘message from the President’ in the newsletter, there isn’t much in it about opera. There’s plenty about poetry and beauty and nature and music – a few of my favorite things.
“Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty…”. So begins one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. The poet is Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose work I would still love even if he hadn’t been a Jesuit. The poem is Hurrahing in Harvest, which always inspires some appreciation for this transition between the seasons. I’ve never been a big fan of fall, often finding myself “grieving over Goldengrove unleaving” during the month of October, to quote another Hopkins poem addressed to a child with whom I share a name.
So it is good for me to be reminded of the barbarous beauty in this transition into the seriousness of winter from the summer frivolity which consumes cities like ours; cities doomed to months of dismal, short days and soggy, sloppy sidewalks. Hopkins, with his trademark sprung rhythm, describes fall’s “silk-sack clouds”, and “azurous hung hills” which are “very-violet-sweet!” In the final stanza Hopkins hits us with the punch line: “these things were here and but the beholder wanting”.
How much beauty in our lives is just waiting for us to behold it? Who are the people we don’t appreciate? What loveliness looks back at us from the mirror every day as our minds race along not noticing? How glorious is it to open our mouths and have beautiful sounds come out, to be able to run scales and match pitches and infuse words with new meaning through music? All of this can be easy to forget when we are in the practice room struggling with a phrase, convinced that all the beauty in the world and all the beauty in us just isn’t enough.
Since I am teaching full-time this fall, I leave you all with an assignment: behold something beautiful this month. If you are lucky perhaps you will have the same experience as Hopkins’ anonymous beholder: “The heart rears wings bold and bolder/and hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.”
(For extra credit, go read some Hopkins.)