Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I am not certain when I became a fan of the Napoleonic Wars. I think that it all began when I started reading C.S. Forester's "Hornblower" novels. From there I went to Patrick O'Brian's novels and from thence to Alexander Kent's take on the same time period. I love the sea and the travels with these great fictional mariners turned out to be informative and entertaining. I ended up obtaining a series of books printed especially for sorts like me called the "Heart of Oak" novels. I was surprised how many otherwise reputable authors at some point in their careers opted to write a novel about the sea, and especially about the maritime wars between England and France. Eventually, however, the supply ran out and I went looking for something else in the same time frame. This is when I discovered Bernard Cornwall.

I had watched a couple of episodes on PBS, dramatizations of Cornwall's "Sharp" series. I think that I actually saw the pilot, "Sharp's Rifles", long before I discovered the books. The series traces the life of a commoner who, as a recruit in the British army in India, saved the life of an officer who would become Lord Wellington. Richard Sharp follows Wellington to Portugal, at the beginning of the battles against the French and Spanish that would eventually terminate in the great Battle of Waterloo wherein Napoleon would be defeated and exiled. Cornwall, a gifted writer, made each advancing step in the series a vibrant picture of early nineteenth century warfare, extraordinarily graphic, not intended for the faint of heart. As each advance through Portugal, Spain, and France transpires, Richard Sharp rises to the occasion and rises in rank until he serves as a field officer in Wellington's staff. It is a gripping and compelling history of a violent time.

In conjunction with the books I was reading, I was constantly reminded of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture", a piece that also evokes the same period of time. For whatever reason, I had always thought of the piece in conjunction with Waterloo, but of course, it was not written with that battle in mind. Tchaikovsky was celebrating the Battle of Borodino when the Russians defeated Napoleon's Grande Armee in the winter of 1812. The combined losses of the French and the Russians were in excess of 100,000, neither side obtaining complete success. With the onset of winter, however, what was left of the French army was literally decimated; only one tenth of the forces that invaded Russia survived to reach Poland on their return to France. The Overture was written in October and November of 1880, the premiere performance taking place
in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (a church built to commemorate the battle) on 20 August 1882. Oddly enough, Tchaikovsky denigrated his own work by saying that it was "very loud and noisy, but [without] artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love". Ironically, it is one of the most performed and recorded of his works.

At this New Year's Eve, another connection with the Napoleonic Wars is possible. Years ago Dan Fogelberg wrote a song called "The Same Auld Lang Syne" a song that has currency to this day, even though a score of years have passed since he wrote it. Ostensibly, the lyrics are autobiographical. In Fogelberg's own words: "In 1975 or 76 I was home in Peoria, Illinois visiting my family for Christmas. I went to a convenience store to pick up some whipping cream to make Irish coffees with, and quite unexpectedly ran into an old high school girlfriend. The rest of the song tells the story." The girl was Jill Greulich with whom Dan Fogelberg had gone to high school. While the story line has some tenderness to it, the melody line was taken from the main theme of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". I remember hearing Fogelberg confess that on that level, the song was a bit of a joke, a sentiment much like Tchaikovsky's. Again, ironically, there is probably no one song more frequently and consistently played on the air than "The Same Auld Lang Syne".

Same Old Lang Syne

Met my old lover in the grocery store,
The snow was falling Christmas Eve.
I stole behind her in the frozen foods,
And I touched her on the sleeve.

She didn't recognize the face at first,
But then her eyes flew open wide.
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse,
And we laughed until we cried.

We took her groceries to the checkout stand,
The food was totalled up and bagged.
We stood there lost in our embarrassment,
As the conversation dragged.

We went to have ourselves a drink or two,
But couldn't find an open bar.
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store,
And we drank it in her car.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

She said she'd married her an architect,
Who kept her warm and safe and dry,
She would have liked to say she loved the man,
But she didn't like to lie.

I said the years had been a friend to her,
And that her eyes were still as blue.
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw,
Doubt or gratitude.

She said she saw me in the record stores,
And that I must be doing well.
I said the audience was heavenly,
But the traveling was hell.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence,
Another 'auld lang syne'......

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired,
And running out of things to say.
She gave a kiss to me as I got out,
And I watched her drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school,
And felt that old familiar pain .........
And as I turned to make my way back home,
The snow turned into rain ..............

You can never go home, Dan; all you can do is become entangled in the history of the world.

Dan Fogelberg died on 16 December 2007 of prostate cancer. He was 56.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Need to Say Goodbye

Music in films is a kind of magical synthesis of sound, rhythm, and feeling that amplifies visual meaning. Frequently the music of a motion picture becomes so identified with the story line that it is virtually impossible to think of one without sensing the other. Visual craftsmen, like Steven Spielberg, have sought for their musical counterparts, composers as talented as themselves in portraying the story in another medium. It is interesting to note that Spielberg has only released two films without a John Williams score. It should surprise no one that Williams composed all of the music for the first three "Harry Potter" movies, the "Indiana Jones" franchise, and the Christopher Reeves "Superman" movies.

It is hard to imagine a Tim Burton film without a score written by Danny Elfman: "Beetlejuice", "Batman", "Batman Returns", "Edward Scissorhands", "Mars Attacks", "Sleepy Hollow", "Planet of the Apes", "Corpse Bride" and others, including "Alice in Wonderland" to be released in 201o. Elfman's prodigious talents appear in other films as well, including "Mission Impossible", "Men in Black", "Good Will Hunting", "Spiderman", "Nacho Libre", "Charlotte's Web", "Kingdom", "Wanted", and, of course, the theme from the "Simpsons".

Jimmy Webb may not be as well known as Williams and Elfman, but his composing skills have made an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of those who remember the haunting melodies of "The Last Unicorn", the animated version of Peter S. Beagle's masterpiece. The title song, "Man's Road", "In the Sea", and "That's All I've Got to Say" convey the central wonder of the book and the film. They have become inexorably connected.

In the shadow of the forest
Though she may be old and worn
They will stare unbelieving
At the Last Unicorn

Mike Batt's "Bright Eyes", for the movie "Watership Down", particularly Art Garfunkel's rendition of it, is unforgettable.

Is it a kind of a dream
Floating out on the tide
Following the river of death downstream
Or is it a dream?

Does anyone remember the composer for the three "Lord of the Rings" movies? Howard Shore. But no one can forget "In Dreams". What a wonder it was to hear "Aniron" and "It May Be" for the first time, stunned at the performance. I stood in the theater throughout the entire rolling of the credits just to see if Enya really had been singing Shore's pieces. Howard Shore also scored the movies "Silence of the Lambs", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Se7en", "The Last Mimzey", and "The Aviator", among others.

I had another "rolling of the credits" moment the other night as I watched for the first time the latest remake of "Prince Caspian". Regina Spektor's "The Call" snared me completely. I am not certain that I really like everything that Regina has done in her music, but "The Call" has become integral to my appreciation of C.S Lewis' masterpieces in the "Chronicles of Narnia". I listened to it over and over again, and then went on the internet to find out more about Ms. Spektor. What a powerful thing it is to have the senses blended together forever in a period of four minutes or less!

It started out as a feeling, which then grew into a hope.
which then turned to a quiet thought
which then turned into a quiet word.
And then that word grew louder and louder, till it was a Battle Cry
I'll come back, when you call me. No need to say goodbye.

Just because everything's changing
doesn’t mean its never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
as you head off to the war.
Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light
You'll come back, when its over
No need to say goodbye
you'll come back, when its over
no need to say goodbye

Now we're back to the beginning
It's just a feeling and no one knows yet
but just because they can’t feel it too doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger,
till they're before your eyes.
You'll come back when they call you
no need to say goodbye
You'll come back when they call you
no need to say goodbye.

I think that is what music does to us... the memory of that wonderful synthesis between sight and sound... no need to say goodbye.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two Gigs and a Byte

Over forty years ago, Pat Simonson, Linda Benson, and I formed a folk group that we called the "Antiquities". The name was supposed to be ironic; all of us were in our early twenties. It was a time of folk music; we were sort of on the leading edge of the whole movement. We sang songs from the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bud and Travis, Ian and Sylvia, and Bob Dylan, among others. We performed all over northern Wisconsin and Central Minnesota. We did a little bit of television and radio, and a lot of concerts. We actually got paid for our efforts at times. If I may say so, we were really quite good. We won talent contests and were featured performers at folk fests of one sort or another. The whole thing came to an abrupt end when Linda got married and I headed off to southern Mexico for two years. During my absence Pat kept performing and by the time I returned home, she had made a name for herself in St. Paul. We had a couple of agents hankering for our talents, but I decided to get married and go to Utah to go to school.

Rocky Mountain Water tastes so fresh and fine
Rocky Mountain Water tastes so fresh and fine
Well if I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain Water
I declare I'm going to lose my mind
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine
"The Antiquities" (by way of the Upper Noblick Ten Thousand)

About seventeen years ago, Jon Woodhead and I collaborated on a number of songs and performed around Simi Valley, California, for a time. We called ourselves "J.P. Legrande". The name was derived from our first initials and my dad's middle name. Jon is an accomplished musician, having been on the road with the likes of Leon Russell and Mariah Carey. We genuinely liked each other and spent hours working on several songs which we recorded in his front room using my Fostex recording equipment. A few years ago I resurrected the best of our work and produced a CD called "Rolling Home". In 1993, I was transferred to New Mexico and he eventually ended up performing just outside of Denver, Colorado, playing the blues that he loves so much. Jon had all the right connections, but for the second time in my life, I avoided entering into the profession.

Hear her cry, hear her moan
Rollin' by, going home
Through the lonely, clouded darkness
Rollin' home
J.P. LeGrande (by way of PNH)

During the time that I worked at UVSC, Shydandelion and I had the opportunity to perform publicly at various talent shows. We did songs from Nanci Griffith, Cat Stevens, and others to entertain the troops. We had a lot of fun. I retired and SD got married and began to have children.

Oh, trouble set me free
I have seen your face
and it'd too much, too much for me
Zaphod and Shy (by way of Cat Stevens)

About four or five months ago we found out that Jen and her family were coming to Utah, and actually ended up less than a hundred yards from our home here in Orem. We decided to do something that we had not done before. We formed a singing group, which we are calling "The Forest for the Trees". We have been practicing traditional Christmas songs for the past six weeks or so, and last Tuesday night we made our first performance at a Church Christmas party. I guess it was okay, for all that I could tell. Last night we went to the hospital to perform for T-ma. We sang the same set that we did Tuesday. Several of the nurses complimented us on our music. I was actually standing so I could here the others, and so I could heartily agree. The doctor on duty, a tall, gangly, grey-haired fellow stuck his head in the room and said, "Hey you guys are really good. Are you recording artists?" I said that we were going to lay down some tracks in the next week or so. "So are you guys performing somewhere? Are you on tour?" I had been waiting for this setup for a month.

"No," I replied. "We probably will never perform professionally; so it really is impossible to see 'The Forest for the Trees'." Goooooood onnnnne!!!!

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
all through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
all through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
hill and vale in slumber sleeping
God His loving vigil keeping
all through the night
The Forest for the Trees (by way of Nick Reynolds)

I am really glad that I have never made it big performing. I know and understand the attraction of singing well before an audience of 10,000 and have them all be appreciative. I also know what it feels like to sing at a dinner club where most of the customers have had far too much to drink. I also have performed when everyone else was preoccupied with their neighbors and when I packed up my guitars and slipped out of the room, no one really noticed.

What I do enjoy, is singing with others who really like to sing, who enjoy harmony as much as they do singing lead, who can take advice from individuals outside our foursome so that we sound better together. We sang well enough last night that we went to Village Inn to celebrate. I had French toast. I felt like toasting us all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wild Surmise

Last Monday our little group of Empty Nesters met at Pat and Rich’s home for our monthly meeting, a short discussion, and refreshments. As anyone with a calendar could have anticipated, Pat’s lesson focused on Thanksgiving and the spirit of gratitude. After her introduction, all of us were asked to express that singular thing that we were most thankful for; we had been warned prior to our get-together that our little moment in the sun would take place. Needless to say, most of our friends spoke about their spouses and family, their good health, and their religious life. In nothing were they cavalier about their feelings; their sincerity was real. Having been prepared by Pat’s phone call, I had given the assignment some thought, but it was not until we were sitting in our friends’ living room that my contribution came to me.

How important is it in our daily lives to breathe, to have our bodies refreshed and nourished by food and drink? How vital is it to be clothed, sheltered, and comfortable? I could not exist upon this sphere without any of these things. Likewise, life would have no meaning or substance without Trillium, our seven children, their spouses and their quivers full of grandchildren. I had thought of these as obvious objects of our gratitude and said so. Beyond the obvious, however, there was one aspect of my life for the which I could not have more thankfulness.

I have been modestly graced with language, the power to read, write, and make vocal utterance. Admittedly some of these expressions are lengthy, verbally ponderous things. I am not certain why that is so, but I have found it difficult to be otherwise. Aside from my writing, I enjoy reading at length. During the past year I have consumed several novels, biographies, and classic volumes from different eras in English and world literature. In my reading I have been able to connect with the minds and hearts of men and women whom I would have otherwise never met. Imagine that! Here in the middle of Utah Valley, without leaving my home, I have travelled thousands of years and hundreds of thousands of miles in my mind to be with individuals whom I have come to appreciate. Even in a bad translation, the descent into Dante’s “Inferno” is an extraordinary affair.

Since Monday I have had occasion to ponder the continuing unfolding of my mind and heart as I have read from the writings of Adam Clarke, the thoughtful observations of Bruce R. McConkie, and the considered opinions of the editors of the NIV and the New Jerusalem Bible. I have come to understand the Apostle Paul in a way that few people in the world have, not because I am particularly brilliant, but because I can read. It is a wonderful thing to have an insight into the experiences and teachings of a man who lived nearly two thousand years ago, to sense his emotions, his deep and abiding love for a people who looked to him for the truth, his determination to protect them from the prospect of persecution and the possibility of personal regret for having entered into the covenants associated with Christianity. There have been times when I have felt as if the spirit of that great man was at my elbow, helping me to comprehend his words, to set them properly in the context of his world.

In conjunction with the fixing of my mind on this wonderful linguistic gift, I thought of John Keats, one of the great Romantic poets of the 19th century. In October 1816, Keats was introduced to the translation of Homer’s works as freely paraphrased by the Elizabethan playwright, George Chapman. One of Keats’ boyhood friends, Charles Crowden Clarke, showed him the book one evening and they stayed up until dawn to read the volume together. Clarke said that at times “Keats shouted with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination”. At mid morning, John Keats presented to his friend the text of the following sonnet. As little points of interest, the reader might like to know that the planet Uranus, a celestial body unknown to ancient astronomers, was discovered in 1781 by Sir William Hershel. That discovery is certainly the source for one of the lines below. We ought not to be distressed that it was Vasco de Balboa and not Hernan Cortes who stood on that singular peak in Panama, a fact that Keats’ friend immediately pointed out to him. “Balboa”, however, has three syllables and “Cortes” but two; to correct the history would have been to destroy the line and Keats let it stand as he had written it in the fires of his epiphany.

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

“Wild surmise”! That is at the heart of all good reading, the sudden awareness that someone somewhere has changed your life forever.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dancing on the Wind

One of my favorite poems by Robert Frost is a piece entitled "A Tuft of Flowers". For most people, and justifiably so, Frost is addressing the frequent loneliness we all feel as we make our way through the world, notwithstanding the fact that we all are engaged in similar tasks. All of us are children, most of us are parents. We all wrestle with world events that we do not understand; and then there are the world events that we do understand. We reach out to one another; sometimes as friends, sometimes as lovers. Our associations with one another are as needful as air. Robert Frost suggests that sometimes the most vital connections occur when we least expect them.

A Tuft of Flowers

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,--alone,

`As all must be,' I said within my heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.'

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

`Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
`Whether they work together or apart.'

I have always loved the role of the butterfly, the Dancer on the Wind, that facilitated the deep and abiding connection between the reaper and the turner of the hay. The butterfly had no idea what it had done; it simply was looking for butterfly weed. It obeyed its nature and unknowingly drew the hearts of the two men together. Needless to say, had either one of the men failed to do that which they had been called upon to do, the flight of the butterfly would have been meaningless.

As we go through life we fully expect to be rewarded for the good that we do. We expect compensation for our labors. We desire recognition, honor from those whom we esteem. I think that I would rather, when all is revealed, to be surprised to find that I had been a blessing to another in a wonderful and miraculous way, as transcendent as that which the butterfly accomplished, pointing out in my trembling flight through life one of those things which bind us together as the children of God.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Singing Skies and Dancing Waters

I grew up in the mountains of Southern California. I spent my summers building dams in the creek that ran through my back yard, sleeping in a tree house 30 feet up in a eucalyptus tree, and wandering in the wild for hours on end. For me there is hardly anything as delightful as walking hip-deep through a field of meadow grass still wet with dew or running full-tilt downhill into a stiff canyon wind. Pop psychologists like to say that human beings do not dream in color nor can one dream of flying. I have done both; I'm not certain why.

When John, Paul, George, and Ringo were all the rage in the mid-sixties, I was not a fan. I did not own a single Beatles record until I was middle-aged, and then I bought all of their music on CDs. I did so, not because I really liked everything they did; I just liked a goodly number of their rather thoughtful pieces. I particularly like "Mother Nature's Son", a song I did not know until I heard John Denver sing it. I actually thought Denver had written it; I do not think that I was alone in my misconception. The words are quite simple, yet compelling. They do lose some of their power in written form because the music is such an integral part of the piece.

Mother Nature's Son

Born a poor young country boy
Mother Nature's son
All day long
I'm sitting singing songs for everyone.

Sit beside a mountain stream
see her waters rise
Listen to the
pretty sound of music as she flies.

Find me in my field of grass
Mother Nature's son
Swaying daisies
sing a lazy song beneath the sun.

Mother Nature's son.

The first time I heard James Taylor's "Gaia" I was sitting in my den in Albuquerque. I was stunned by the song. I could visualize every image that he painted As he climbed up into the mountains and stopped to rest, I did so as well, as I had done many times before in my life. When he looked back over the mountains, so did I, and with him I became "Helpless, speechless, and breathless" as his percussionist did all the right things to my ears, heart and mind. I think it was one of the purest moments that I have ever had in music. James affectionately referred to his song as the "tree-huggers' anthem". So be it.


The sky was light and the land all dark
The sun rose up over Central Park
I was walking home from work

The petal sky and the rosy dawn
The world turning on the burning sun
Sacred wet green one we live on

Run run run run said the automobile and we ran
Run for your life take to your heels
Foolish school of fish on wheels

Turn away from your animal kind
Try to leave your body just to live in your mind
Leave your cold cruel mother earth behind

As if you were your own creation
As if you were the chosen nation
And the world around you just a rude and dangerous invasion

Someone`s got to stop us now
Save us from us Gaia
No one`s gonna stop us now

We thought we ought to walk awhile
So we left that town in a single file
Up and up and up mile after mile after mile
We reached the tree line and I dropped my pack
Sat down on my haunches and I looked back down
Over the mountain
Helpless and speechless and breathless

Pray for the forest pray to the tree
Pray for the fish in the deep blue sea
Pray for yourself and for God`s sake
Say one for me
Poor wretched unbeliever

Someone`s got to stop us now
Save us from us Gaia
No one`s gonna stop us now

My appreciation for John Denver's gift is profound, even though I recognize that he was not the perfect musician nor was he the perfect wordsmith. But he and I made little connections during his career. I adopted a number of his songs and have performed them around the country as I have had opportunity. That his biography is entitled "Mother Nature's Son" should surprise no one who is familiar with his music. I had an extraordinary experience a number of years ago with one of his lesser-known songs. I, again, was in my den, writing some aspect of my autobiography with one of his records playing in the background. I had been lightly listening to the music, but on a sudden the words of "Singing Skies and Dancing Waters" broke through and I realized that John Denver had experienced something akin to my own youthful experiences. I heard in his song something of my own poem that I had called "The Sparrow" where I had tried to capture in writing my first real contact with God. I understood that he, too, had struggled with a sense of the divine, worrying that somehow the world had been with him, "too much and too soon". I am aware that not every person who has heard the song thinks that it is profoundly religious in nature, but I am certain that it is.

Singing Skies and Dancing Waters

So many years ago, I can't remember now
Someone was waiting for me
I had the answers to all of my questions
Love was so easy to see,
I didn't know

When I was younger, I should have known better
I thought nothing was new
Through all the spaces, and all of the changes
What I lost sight of was you
I didn't know, I didn't know

I could see you in singing skies and dancing waters
laughing children, growing old
And in the heart and in the spirit
And in the truth when it is told

My life became shady, and I grew afraid
And I needed to find my way home
I just couldn't see you, I thought that I'd lost you
I never felt so much alone, are you still with me

Somehow in reason, I lost sight of seasons
I'm growing out, growing in
Sometimes in evenings, when daylight was needed
I thought I'd never see you again
Are you still with me, are you still with me

I'm with you in singing skies and dancing waters
laughing children, growing old
And in the heart and in the spirit
And in the truth when it is told

If my faith should falter
And I should forsake you,
and find myself turning away
Will you still be there, will you still be there

Ill be there in singing skies and dancing waters
laughing children growing old
And in the heart and in the spirit
And in the truth when it is told

Paul McCartney and John Lennon's song was inspired by their direct contact with the naturalist spirit of Hinduism. James Taylor's work was motivated by a tender regard for environmentalism. John Denver was attempting to find something greater than himself, something that he ultimately found in nature. What I find uplifting about all of this is that it is possible for just about anyone to discern truth. Perspectives may differ, interpretations may vary, but we find that all of these are facets of the same gem. The great gift that we give to one another is given when we write our prose, poems, or lyrics that express a portion of the divine that emenates from all of creation; a taste of the truth, perhaps a recipe for finding the truth. For all of their diversity, these three songs found a resonance within me and I became a better person, a better man, a better partcipant in life because of the synthesis.
When we have gleaned all of the truth that we can share with one another, there is Another who is perfectly willing to share all He knows with us as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dancing on the Edge -- The Poem

I thought that you might like to have the poem in its linear form.

Dancing on the Edge

a glint of light poised at the brink
glittering pirouettes and dazzling leaps
from point to point,
nimbly and deftly wrought,
heedless of the gaping abyss
that drops away into
a never-ending ebony of starless nights

electrifying near-insanity, risking all
for to catch the light of sun and moon and stars
wrapt about and within,
an incandescent glory
on the precipice,
double-daring a descent into the foxfire
upon the valley floor

no better time to dance,
while all else lies in the muddle
of day and night,
the very moment when
the difference twixt white and black dissolves;
the dancer testifies
of all that is fading
of all that is dawning
of all that is beyond our ken
of all that we hope is true

or expended, we know not;
fallen on the hinder side,
a searing unseen spectacle
of trailing flame and whitened ash,
scattered embers winking out,
dark waters embracing what fire remains;
we know not;

or caught away, we know not;
drawn from heights to cleave
unto greater heights,
a rising point of light
seeking her own
beyond the fall of night;
we know not;

we dwell in shadows,
placid in the warm, moist glades
fearful of the unused path,
the perilous crest,
where angels dance
upon the razor's edge
which separates
the living from the dead

Paul Nolan Hyde
1 December 1992

Dancing with Words

One of my beautiful daughters is a dancer. Her grace and emotion on stage have stunned professionals; they have made her father weep for the beauty of it all. Years ago I wrote a poem about her, attempting to put in word and rhythm that which I felt as I watched her. The result was "Dancing on the Edge", the lines of which appear on the left sidebar of this website. A few days after having written the poem, I had the opportunity to show my little piece to one of my graduate students at UCLA. At her request I gave her a copy. That evening I received a phone call from her. She was excited. "I want you to hear something!" She put her phone on top of her grand piano and began playing the first movement to Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin". After a minute or two she picked up the phone again and asked "What does that remind you of, other than Ravel's exquisite compositions?"

"It is my poem," I whispered.

"Yes, it is! Now, listen to this!" She then began to play parts of the subsequent movements of Ravel's masterpiece. "Anything there move you to wordsmithery?" I am afraid the whole forge was on fire.

I spent the better part of the Christmas vacation that year penning poems to match the all of the movements of "Le Tombeau de Couperin" as follows:

Prelude -- Dancing on the Edge (1 December 1992)
Fugue -- First Kiss (15 December 1992)
Forlane -- Song of the Drunken Dwarf (6 December 1992)
Rigaudon -- Nen Lalaith (15 December 1992)
Minuet -- Consenting Eclipses (9 December 1992)
Toccata -- A Touching (16 December 1992)

When Renae finished her course of study at UCLA, her Master's Recital included "Le Tombeau de Couperin". The six poems were included in the printed program, and the corresponding piece was read before each movement was played.

Needless to say, I cannot now read any of the six poems without being overpowered by my memories of my daughter, my association with Renae, and my love for Ravel's works. It constitutes a synthesis, a melding of separate parts of my life into one thing, a unity of soul which no doubt is inexplicable to anyone else, save they have experienced the same. A cynical detractor might suggest that my daughter is a clumsy oaf, that my sentiments about her dancing have been artificially generated simply because I am her father. Such critics, of course, have never seen her dance. Another ignoramus might suggest that there are better schools of music then that at UCLA. Undoubtedly there are, but that observation does not directly impact my memories of a gifted concert pianist who helped me create a body of work which brings joy to my heart and mind every time I look at them. Someone might rightly say, "Well, I am not a fan of the Impressionist movement in music composition." So be it, but that does not change the fact that "Le Tombeau de Couperin" has affected me deeply as it became associated with other parts of my life's experience. Finally, a churlish person might say, "I don't get your poems". More's the pity, because understanding my little poems would help him to understand me, not altogether a bad thing given the divisive, rancorous world that we live in.

So what is the significance of this little posting? It is that no one of the parts of any man's life completely explains the whole of it. It is not the separate members of our families, our diverse friendships, our quixotic preferences, our vacillating opinions, or our word-usage that define us. We believe and feel the way we do because we have made irreversible connections between epiphanous moments in our lives, creating an indestructible core of truth that defines us as worthwhile human beings. No one can effectively assail us at our core without destroying who we are.

Likewise, why we believe the way we do about God, or about Heaven, or about morality cannot be explained in bits and pieces.