Sunday, February 04, 2007

I wait and watch

Friday evening, I took my wife to see the King’s Singers for her birthday. When I bought the tickets weeks ago, I had absolutely no inkling that the program would lend insight into the train of thought I’ve been following here.
The program was titled, Landscape and Time, as is their latest album. In introducing their newly recorded work, Christopher Gabbitas remarked, “we are, all of us, a product of our time and geography”. This commentary prefaced a performance of music from Estonia, Japan, England, Finland, and Hungary, but is equally well-suited to drawing-out a nonconformity common to modern life. Though place and time shape us, we seem to be selectively blind to these influences.
We remain very much creatures of time, but increasingly lose the element of geography. In particular we forget the intimate microgeography that in ages past was part and parcel of every human’s daily life. The land was family.
In a song combining the music of English composer Richard Rodney Bennett and the words of 17th century clergyman and poet John Donne, the ensemble observed, “we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons”. For the author, this was an immutable truth taught to him, not by a book, but in the lessons learned by living with eyes open. This former plain-fact is now much diluted, and the spiritual lesson Donne intended to convey with it may also be.
The translated text of an ancient Japanese poem appears in the program notes from Friday’s performance. Here again, words from the past use a collective appreciation of the natural world to artfully speak of the human condition. The union of person and place that creates such metaphors now grows dim in the periphery of the firelight of our minds.

Alone beside the river of birds
Near the stream’s upland source
I wait and watch
Beside a bridge of stones
And in this melancholy scene
I hear the nu-e-dori night bird
Cry out unanswered in the dark,
And then at dawn the morning-bird
Fluttering and flitting to-and-fro about its nest
Like a grieving prince, wilted by the heat of lost love,
Who roams, east-to-west, like the Evening Star,
Ceaselessly going and coming
In an endless round of departure and return.

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