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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Two Dead Heats

I was awoken one morning, a week or so ago, by the radio alarm. To be precise, by a man's voice talking on the Pause for Thought spot. He was asking What is the most spiritually uplifting piece of music for you? He than confessed that for him it was This must be the place by the Talking Heads. I can feel the change in me when I hear it, he said, cannot resist the urge to dance. He then mentioned that the setting to Psalm 51, the Miserere was regarded as so spiritually uplifting by the Vatican that they limited its use so as not to dilute its effect. The result of all this was that I got to wondering what for me was the most uplifting art work that I know.

It was poetry I turned to first, thinking that whichever poem has been the most spiritually uplifting for me over the years, it was going to be one that I had come back to time and time again and still came back to, and that not just for its aesthetic delights, its music, its word play or its assonance, but at times in some sort of extremity, the way religious people have always turned to their particular faith at such times. I very much stand with Wallace Stevens in believing that the old gods have dissolved, that for most people the god they knew is dead, the old heaven is empty, and most urgent now is the task to construct some new, sustaining fiction, something to convince us of its truth even while we know it not to be true. (The way that many believers in the old religion still seem to believe?) In his poetry Stevens is searching for a fiction that is more than fiction. And because I stand alongside Stevens in this, it was probably inevitable that the first poem to make it to my short list would be his Sunday Morning.

Sunday Morning (read here) is almost certainly Stevens's most anthologised poem. It is also one of his more traditional in form, and one that he proved quite unwilling to talk about too much - perhaps because he thought it straight-forward and not in need of explanation. It was also his first sustained attempt to offer a natural ( Pagan) replacement for the old supernatural religions which he believed had had their day. The poem's main argument emphasises the consolations of nature and natural religion. They are sufficient. They are also all that is on offer. In this connection, though, he introduces a caveat: we can only enjoy the beauties of nature and the love of those around us as we come to a realisation of their - and our - transience. The artist whose brush applies such beauty to the world is death. It is as we attain the knowledge that we are on the very cusp of forfeiting all that we love and cherish the most, that its beauty becomes most available to us.

What in essence Stevens gives us is a dialogue. On the one hand we have the thoughts of a woman enjoying the complacencies of the peignoir, which he represents as late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair. Since the dissolution of the gods she lives in a world of superb but disconnected pleasures. Furthermore, the natural beauty of the world is marred by feelings of guilt natural to her as a lapsed church-goer. The answering voice reassures her that the pleasures of the world are sufficient. After all, Why should she give her bounty to the dead? And again: The world should pay her compensation for her lost Heaven.

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

So the poem is also considering the question of surfaces and what might lie beneath them, a wide water flows beneath the surface things, a water representing the unconscious and carrying the truth of blood. The world as recorded by our senses is nothing but a phantasmagoria, a confused play of surfaces. The image of the cockatoo on the woman's rug and the reality of the swallows and pigeons outside, together with the trees and the fruit, are all part of the same deception, passing like things in some procession of the dead.

A later section of the poem gives us a potted history of divinity and the godhead from Jove, who was wholly inhuman, through Jesus who was partly human, to the fully human godhead being proposed by the poem: the natural man. Thus earth becomes paradise and the sky which had been merely a boundary, a separation between heaven and earth, belongs entirely to the earth. The skies are suddenly friendlier.

In the poems fourth section the woman becomes dissatisfied with the suggested alternative, pointing out that it too is impermanent. Stevens counteracts this objection by pointing out that nature has its own in-built permanence represented by the cycle of birth, death and regeneration, but the woman demands an individual permanence., in response to which Stevens points out what would be the shortcomings of a static heaven that would last for ever: the boredom of a world in which the fruit would never fall from the trees.

She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"

It is in part the in-built permanence of nature that seems important to me now, though it has been other aspects in the past - an important attribute of great art I think. Not only has the Godhead lost its sway with most people, so too has nature. I have blogged on this before, I know: the fact that nature, like religion - and like art, too, for that matter - is not what it was. We have only to think of pollution, genetic modification, climate change, the destruction of the rain forests - and that of our own countryside - and much else. Art, for its part, is not concerned with beauty as it once was. Okay, some of it is, and there is still countryside to be enjoyed, but both seem to be shrinking, neither is representative of the whole as it once would have been, we are talking of islands where once we spoke of continents. So it is good to have any reminder of the self-healing powers of nature. It just happens to be that Stevens's reminder speaks lucidly to me, even if, at the death (so to speak) he is aware that problems remain.

Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

My second choice was T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (read here). I toyed with the idea of proposing all four, but decided that would be cheating, so finally selected the third of the four, Dry Salvages.

Eliot wrote these four poems over a period of eight years, between 1935 and 1942, in other words, during the years of W.W.II. (He wrote Dry Salvages in 1941) and there is much of war time pessimism in them. Dry Salvages, though is the most optimistic of them all - possibly the only one you could properly term optimistic. Other things were happening in Eliot's life at this time though: it was the period of his conversion to The Church of England and the period in which he took British Nationality.

The quartets mark something of a break with the work he had produced until then: he had turned away from the fragmentary forms that had characterised his writing in The Waste Land, for example. He is much less experimental. All four poems have place names for titles. He has himself pointed out that Salvages is to be pronounced to rhyme with assuages. The Dry Salvages is the name of a group of rocky islands off the coast of Massachusetts. He has applied it to quartet dealing with humanity as a unified organism with its own subconscious and memory creating its own mythic structures., It has its own history and its own cycles of birth, death and regeneration. It is on a par with Nature seen as a single entity.

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

This first section of the poem compares the sea with a river as metaphor for what cannot be known. The river can be tamed, diverted, bridged, but the sea is endless in mystery and conflict and there is no mastering of it.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobster pot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

The second section deals with time and establishes that time can destroy, but it can also preserve. And just as the allows no mastery, so time allows no escape.

The third section bids us desist from our determination to do well, get on, and to be content with mere existence. Not for the first time in The Four Quartets Eliot employs a ghost or a ghostly figure, a voice high up in a ship's rigging, to present an awareness of what is beyond that which is available to the sailors and passengers below.

When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.

In the penultimate section he gives us a prayer to The Virgin Mary, asking her to keep safe the sailors and their loved ones at home - his model for the whole of humanity.

Finally we achieve the possibility of hope. Mankind forever tries to understand the dilemma of time and the timeless, but the attempt is all in vain. however, within the everyday there are moments in which we are the music, while the music lasts and, though it may sound trite to say so, the truth is that the only way to subvert the demonic forces within us is by right action. it will not always be successful, but it is all we have to work with.

The poem's thrust is interrupted a couple of times by the ringing of bells, by human intervention in other words, by man's puny attempts to control things, perhaps by appeal to a higher being, in which connection it may represent prayer. The fist bell is attached to a buoy. It is meant to warn the sailors of rocks, but it cannot be heard above the storms that sweep the seas until it is too late. The second bell is for the dead - and how are they to hear it? So only the living can profit from it.

Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.

It will come as perhaps only a small surprise to learn that I was unable to separate these two poems and so I offer them as my joint choices and move on to consider which painting or art work I regard as most uplifting. In this connection my first thought was Giovanni Bellini's Agony in the Garden. The version known to me is in The National Gallery. It is one of the most powerful images I know. The human frailty of the sleeping disciples is almost overlooked as an irrelevance to the drama which is centred in the figure of Christ and of which we are given heightened awareness by the dramatic backcloth of landscape and sky. He was very much influenced in this by the work of Mantegna, his brother-in-law. Indeed this work was done in emulation of Mantegna's painting of the same subject, but to my mind it far exceeds it. Bellini combined an acute observation of nature with rare feeling for poetry.

Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire was next on to my short list. It is an image which appears over and over again throughout his work. He plays with pattern, with the geometry of the buildings, with the inclining and angling of the planes representing the fields, and with the grouping and shaping of the clumps of trees. The mountain itself rises gently, but rather regally from all this. Again, I have chosen a subject poetically rendered, this time by the rhythms he conjures from the array of elements.

And then I thought I had to consider Edvard Munch's, The Sun. Munch is best known for his dark side, I suppose, but he had a positive, even joyous side as well, and here is a simple, unadorned life-affirming statement. It is a mural in Oslo University. I think it speaks for itself.

And - sorry to be so boring - I made these three a dead-heat, too. Well, you can't show favouritism among your favourites, can you now? They have one thing in common which is personal to me: I can see them in my mind's eye without recourse to any form of external image, and even so I find them uplifting.

Thinks: might be interesting to hear which works of art (any of the arts) others find uplifting.


Dominic Rivron said...

Spiritually uplifting music. There's so much to choose from. One of the first pieces I found uplifting was Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. I found it in the record library when I was a teenager and played it again and again and again. Messiaen wrote it in a prison camp during WWII. You can hear an excerpt here.

Then there was the agnostic Michael Tippett's cataclysmic Vision of St Augustine, at the end of which he has the choir quietly speak -on behalf of himself- the words "I count not myself to have apprehended".

Rosaria Williams said...

DAve, great lecture/seminar. Now, I have to do some readings/research to come back with my choices. Perhaps you can leave the post up through the weekend, giving us time to pop into museums, libraries, bookstores.

Wait. Can I do this on the web? I live six hours from a decent sized city with museums and a concert hall.

I now miss cities and their wealth of cultural artifacts. I'll audit the course, retuning to absorb others' erudition.

A Cuban In London said...

A most well-researched and interesting post. I find Cezanne's oeuvre most uplifting, but then again I am an impressionism kind of fella, so, yes, dave, I am biased. In regards to Munch, like most people I see him as an ally of the dark, so, it was with pleasure that I clicked on the image you uploaded on your post. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

stu said...

Proving either that being uplifting isn't limited to the fine arts or that I never grew out of my metal phase: Feathers, by Steve Vai.

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

Mine is Richard Strauss "Four Last Songs". and Benjamin Brittens 4 French songs composed when he was 14.
The first by a mature and worldly man the second by a child. From where does such profundity come?
Both works so sublime and uplifting that they must be divinely inspired......??
I am not sure that the strictures of a Sunday morning discipline had any part to play in the "divine inspiration"

Tess Kincaid said...

I adore all of the arts. I can't choose. And for me it changes daily. It's like trying to pick a favorite color. Can't be done.

I picked up a book of Wallace Stevens' poetry at my favorite second hand bookshop the other day.

Dave King said...

I do know the Messiaen, but not the Tippett, though I was quite a fan of Tippett at one time I had a Tippett and Britten phase. Must try to hear it. Thanks for that.

I had not meant to burden you with so much homework!!! Off the top of the head. Gut reaction, was what I had in mind. During my years as a lay preacher I mostly preached to myself; now I am retired (from teaching) I can teach myself. You definitely do not have to stay in after school!

Cuban in London
Yes, there are quite a few Munch's I find uplifting - possibly as many as there are dark. I didn't find it easy to choose between them.

Depends what you mean by fine arts, I suppose. (And what uplifts you.)I still have a nostalgic liking for the metal - try not to grow aout of it.

Two good choices, especially (in my view) the second. I think you may well be on to something with your last sentence.

I sympathise with your choice not to choose. Maybe you are the sane one. Enjoy the Stevens.

Annie said...


Your excellent post triggered so many poignant memories of music, art and poetry. The one memory I should like to share is of the first time I attended a symphony. I was seven years old and our young teacher had arranged for our class of mainly children from poor neighborhoods to go on a class trip. The orchestra began to play, at first, light fare, as it was an afternoon for children; then I saw the conductor raise his baton with such drama that I knew to sit up and take note. Then the orchestra began to play what I later learned was Bach's "Come Sweet Death," and I began to cry. The teacher leaned over me to ask in a whisper if I were ill. "No," I answered, "This is the first time I've heard real music and I'm so happy." Then I saw our teacher quickly brush away tears.

Jinksy said...

The Adagio from Mahler's 5th Symphony always carries me to the highest height, with that special, soaring note that seems to vibrate with the Cosmos !

Helen said...

As Annie so simply and eloquently relates .... so many of our memories are triggered by works of art, music, poetry. For me ~ Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte is pure magic! Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem also moves me to tears...for me ~ it's always about the music.

Art Durkee said...

I've always felt uplifted by some of Mondrian's early (pre-Cubist, pre-neo-plasticist) paintings, such as "Red Mill in Sunlight" or particularly "Evolution." I've seen both in The Hague; the Gemeentsmuseum there has four rooms full of Mondrian, one of the best displays ever.

I did a blog post awhile ago, Painters of Light, that has four more examples.

Paintings that include a sense of vast spaces filled with light are what do this for me. I've only recently been able to verbally articulate for myself what I've felt for a long time, that the Divine is a vast space filled with Light; that's my experience of it. So, when I see a photograph or painting in which the subject is the light itself, really, that does it for me. I pursue that in my own photographs; the sky is often the actual subject of my photos, no matter what else is present.

Looking back, this is an overall theme. It applies to poetry, too. (I created a tape composition in music school called Light as a culmination of sorts. It is a text-sound composition that used several of my own poems as elements, to create musical layers and textures and shapes: words as the sole element of musical form.) One of the poets that I find endlessly uplifting is Rumi (in the Coleman Barks translations); I can't pick out a single poem, as it's all part of one big flow, with Rumi; you just dip in anywhere. I was going to mention Eliot's "Four Quartets," but you beat me to it, and I agree with almost all you said about them. I often feel uplifted by reading RIlke, especially "The Duino Elegies"; the paradox is that sometimes I feel most uplifted by going deep into the darkest places of the heart; when you re-emerge it's like a revelation of the dawn. I often feel uplifted by the great Zen poets of Japan: Ryokan, Issa, Basho. There's a lightness there.

As I go through my mind, trying to think of examples, I have to sort between "uplifting" and "solace" and "enlightening" and "inspirational." There are nuances in between these that create some overlap, but also some important distinctions. It's like art can be uplifting for different reasons, and sometimes art that isn't superficially "inspirational" or "uplifting" can be uplifting because it creates a cathartic experience. You know? The art that I find MOST uplifting is ecstatic art, that recreates in me an experience of ecstasy. Lots of my own work is nothing more than a record of ecstatic experiences; created art or transcription? it doesn't seem to matter, when it's at that level. But I think there's a subtle difference between "uplifting," which can be conventional and sentimental even as it uplifts, and "ecstatic," which can be all-encompassing, overwhelming, immolating. You see? I find a great deal of music, art, and poetry uplifting, in that it cheers my spirits; but ecstatic art is a step beyond that, something even more powerful and involving. While I find "Four Quartets" uplifting, there is a way in which it remains intellectual, not somatic, not all-enveloping; in contrast to Odysseas Elytis' "Sun the First," a poem by a modern ecstatic poet, "Four Quartets" (which I still love) can seem almost too calm.

So much music is uplifting to me, because after all music is my central or main artform, that's it hard to pick an example. There's too much. I'm too enveloped by music. So, just a couple of examples at random:

John Coltrane: "Ascension"
October Project" Something More Than This"
Bach: too many to choose, but definitely a lot of the choral music
Olivier Messiaen: opera, "St. Francis of Assisi"
Tom Petty: "I Won't Back Down"
Kate Bush: "A Sky of Honey" from "Aerial"
Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano
Beethoven: Sym. No. 6, "Pastoral"
Peter Gabriel: "Don't Give Up" (esp. the live version from "Secret World Live" DVD)
Sarah McLachlan: "Building a Mystery"
Steve Reich: "Music for 18 Musicians"
Johnny Clegg & Savuka: lots of songs, like "Osiyeza (The Crossing)"

And I could go on. . . .

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dave - a couple of years ago I lost a very dear friend who had been fighting cancer for the last twenty years of her life. She wrote her own funeral service and had this verse from Tennyson's Lotos Eaters read - the funeral was in Lichfield Cathedral. The combination of sadness at her death, the beautiful cathedral, which I know well and the beauty of the words, read by a man with a beautiful voice, has been spiritually uplifting in my memory
ever since and will be until the day I die:

There is sweet music here that softer falls,
Than petals from blown roses on the grass
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentler on the spirit lies,
Than tir'd eyelids upon tir's eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down
from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And thro' the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.

Mark Kerstetter said...

No art is more uplifting to me than the music of Bach, such as the St. Matthew Passion or anything performed by Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert.

Cloudia said...

Hawaiian Music,
REAL Hawaiian music that we listen to here in the Islands, is what angels listen to at home!

Sheila said...

I've just discovered your blog and what a wonderful one it is. It isn't often you get to listen to someone talking about Sunday Morning and the Four Quartets, two of my favourite poems. My own list would include Beethoven's Miss Solemnis, Steven's Sunday Morning, Eliot's Little Gidding, Jane Kenyon's Let Evening come, Hopkin's The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God and any number of Turner landscapes and seascapes, but for example the series called the Blue Rigi, the Red Rigi and the dark Rigi, or the great sea/sky scape the Fighting Temeraire Towed to her last Berth, all of which perfectly illustrate Hopkin's point.

Dave King said...

That is a superb comment, thank you so much for it. I must cionfess that I was not that far advanced at seven - probably still am not! A wonderful memory, though.

Yes, I know it. Wonderful!

The Ravel I don't think I know. Maybe I'll try to rectify that. Thanks.

I understand completely what you say about the light and the sky. I find complete worlds in skyscapes at times, and usually all to do with the light.

I can say Amen to the whole of your third paragraph with the exception of your mention of Rumi, a poet I must confess I do not know at all. Another hole in my jacket to be stitched!

I, too, began by thinking that anything that was spiritually uplifting would have, almost by definition, to be ecstatic, but I was quite surprised to find, when i came to draw up my long lists, that it was not always so. Some were, on the face of it, dark compositions that resolved the darkness in some way - but short of ecstatic.

You finish with a most impressive list; you have obviously put a tremendous amount of effort into this. Thank you for that.

I can't disagree with you regarding the Passion. Superb.

I'm afraid you have me there. I'm sure that which I have heard is not the real stuff!

Welcome to my blog. It's good to have you aboard, and thank you for your comments.
It was a close run thing whether I would include Little Gidding or not as my choice from The Four Quartets. That is a great list you have prepared for our consideration. I agree completely about the Rigis. Thanks again.

Marion McCready said...

I don't ever find artworks or poems to be uplifting in the way that I find nature or classical music to be. But still, nothing beats the old hymns - Guide me O thou Great Jehovah:

"When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee."

Neither the Godhead or nature has lost its sway with me, I guess I'm a believer in the old religion!

Tom Atkins said...

Almost too much richness to take in on this post. I had to read it twice after reading your line about the old gods dissolving. That sent me off in a reverie that took forever to return from. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, words and more.

Unknown said...

Dave I have never been all that great at disecting and breaking down poetry so this entire post was just fascinating to me. It is no surprise you are able to provide such detail in your review of each, you "see" them so well! Thanks for teaching me quite a bit here.

To choose only one form of art as the most uplifting to me would be difficult -- I would likely debate how all of them have a special place in my soul but truthfully in the end I would likely settle on music. Not picky, I'll listen to just about anything. The reason it is so inspiring is that for just a few moments I can writhe in pain, dance with glee, feel loss, accept joy...experience the full range of emotions that the artist wants us to feel no matter if it is instrumental or with lyrics.

Dave King said...

I have a lot of sympathy with that standpoint, though sadly, it seems that fewer and fewer are able to sign up to it.

Thanks for that. I take the point about almost too much richness.

Thanks Jenn, I think a lot of people would echo your thoughts.

Fiendish said...

Visually, this is one of my favourite uplifting images: http://thisrecording.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/henri-cartier-bresson13.jpg. It speaks of other worlds for me, which is a trend running through most of my choices. I suppose I see the possibility of having, rather than the having itself, as the great uplifter.

"Misty" by Ruth Padel and "The pennycandystore beyond the E1" by Laurence Ferlinghetti are two such poems for me, but in the end my absolute favourite poem is "The Whitsun Weddings" by Philip Larkin, and it lifts my spirits in an inexplicable way.

Musically, "Arizona" by Kings of Leon or The Strokes' "Someday". Maybe even Arctic Monkeys' "A Certain Romance". I have a mercifully vast arsenal of songs that I love; I don't know what I'd do if I didn't.

Fantastic Forrest said...


Love this, as I do all your posts. But this one especially.

Paintings - Chagall's Birthday. If you know it, you will laugh when I tell you I find it uplifting. If you don't, I hope you'll be intrigued enough to look it up and then laugh.

Music - So many choices. Head is spinning. Can't pick, sorry. May post on this later.

Books - you will think I am a total idiot when I say that one of the most spiritually uplifting books I've read is the final Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows. The ending is so beautiful, and as a mother, I am so excited that one of the most powerful things in those characters' universe is a mother's love; it has the strength to protect against real evil. I always cry at the ending, those simple words "All was well." Isn't that what we long for?

Poem - The Cremation of Sam McGee. It makes death less scary. Perhaps more importantly, it was one of my Dad's favorites.

Unknown said...

Great post-- with me, "favorites" change with time, or shift between a list of a dozen or so. Speaking of Stevens, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" is one of my all-time favorite poems & certainly "uplifting" in the sense I understand that best; some Kenneth Patchen poems, too: "Do The Dead Know What Time It Is?" for sure. Also an obvious choice (I think), Yeats' "Among School Children." Music really varies for me: something apparently simple like Mississippi John Hurt doing his version of "See See Rider" can be very moving at a spiritual level, as can something quite complex like R. Strauss' "Beim Schlafengehen." I will say that Bellini painting you chose was extremely moving, tho I'm not a religious sort.


Dave King said...

Fantastic Forrest
Yes, I do know it. I smiled inwardly rather than laughed. Thinking of some Stanley Spencer's that I find uplifting, I couldn't really laugh, now could I?
I have to confess to not knowing the Potter books, but I am sure you are no sort of idiot, total or otherwise.
I can relate to your reasons.
The poem I have read, but must go back to.
Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

Another thought-provoking response. Fully agree re the Stevens poem, and the Yeats, but don't know the Patchen. Another to look up. The music choices are extremely interesting. Many thanks for the trouble taken.

Dave King said...

I understand and can relate to the sentiments of your first paragraph.
Thw Whitsun Weddings were on my long list and my middle list and nearly made the final three. Another day, who knows, perhaps they would have.
Ruth Padel deserves to get insomewhere, I agree.
Interesting music choices. Thanks for the contributions.

Jim Murdoch said...

The word that trips me up here, Dave, is 'spiritually' because I have always associated spirituality with religion. The world either stimulates my intellect or my emotions, sometimes both. I've have looked for this extra 'spiritual' sense for most of my life and have concluded that if it exists then whatever I require to get in touch with it is missing in me or irreparably broken.

I am still a very curious person and I'm always looking for new experiences although it does seem that I'm more interested in experiencing the world vicariously through others' artistic responses to it. Of all the arts music touches me at the deepest level – i.e. maximum feeling, minimum thought – and so I'll restrict my responses solely to it.

I have listened to a huge amount of music over the years and I have very broad tastes. Music is the art form I look to to uplift me; it is a quick fix. The first piece of music that I could say reached into me and took a hold of something I had not made contact with before would be Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams and it's still my favourite work by him. Strings have definitely been a major factor in the kind of music that can uplift me. I only have to think of Copland or Barber there.

In recent years I've found myself drawn to the work of a number of Baltic composers. Arvo Pärt was the first and, starting with Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (for string orchestra), I've built up quite a collection. I've since started to broaden my field and my most recent discovery has been Peteris Vasks, especially his Distant Light, a concerto for violin and string orchestra.

Dave King said...

I understand your point about the word spiritual. I think it very often is used as a synonym for deep emotion. Sometimes I almost think it is an emotion - though I see objections to that. I'm not sure that I would myself have used the word if I had been framing the question from the beginning, but I was picking it up from the radio presenter and trying not to modify his question more than I had to. However, I do think this is perhaps the most interesting issue to emerge from my post.

I also agree with you that music is the art which reaches the deepest levels of emotion - not sure about minimum thought, though. Thought does not have to be verbal, and I think I can only go along with that if we are restricting it to verbal thought. Scans tend to show as much - or even more - brain activity whilst listening to music as in any other activity.

I also agree re Peteris Vasks and Benjamin Britten, but Arvo Part I do not know and so must put that right.

Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

Jim Murdoch said...

Surprised you don't know Pärt, Dave, especially when you know Vasks. There are plenty of YouTube videos available for the popular stuff and here is as good a place to start as any.

Dave King said...

It was probably overstating it a bit to say I know Vasks, but I had heard some. Thanks for the link. I started myself off with Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. I will catch up with the others later.

mansuetude said...

this post is so wonderful.
I agree with some of these too, Rilke, Hopkins, Eliot--off the top... Rumi, Merwin at times, anthing that might loosen a bolt or a buckle to a place holding too steadfast in any moment might do...

but for me, the artifact of music or poem or art object opens itself differently depending on where my self is, so its always moving; that is the power of it, I think, that we are whole and fractured by our own aspects all at once, and attentive to certain strings of self...

sometimes its just a bird cry that invades my own thought or meditation and that brings the lift; the unexpected thing, shadow or light, a gesture of hand or voice... etc.

thanks for this thought provoking post, it is like an open inviting classroom over here.