‘The Singers’, Oxyrhynchus hymn, and ‘A Psalm of Life’

The Singers

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

God sent his Singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.

The first, a youth, with soul of fire,
Held in his hand a golden lyre;
Through groves he wandered, and by streams,
Playing the music of our dreams.

The second, with a bearded face,
Stood singing in the market-place,
And stirred with accents deep and loud
The hearts of all the listening crowd.

A gray old man, the third and last,
Sang in cathedrals dim and vast,
While the majestic organ rolled
Contrition from its mouths of gold.

And those who heard the Singers three
Disputed which the best might be;
For still their music seemed to start
Discordant echoes in each heart,

But the great Master said, “I see
No best in kind, but in degree;
I gave a various gift to each,
To charm, to strengthen, and to teach.

“These are the three great chords of might,
And he whose ear is tuned aright
Will hear no discord in the three,
But the most perfect harmony.

*The Oxyrhynchus Hymn is the oldest known music notation and lyrics of a Christian hymn, dating from the second or third century. The English lyrics are roughly translated as,

.. Let it be silent
Let the Luminous stars
not shine,
Let the winds (?) and all the noisy rivers die down;
And as we hymn the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Let all the powers add “Amen Amen”
Empire, praise always, and glory to God,
The sole giver of
good things,
Amen Amen

A Psalm of Life

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
     Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
     And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
     And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
     Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
     Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
     Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
     And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
     Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
     In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
     Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
     Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
     Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
     We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
     Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
     Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
     Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
     With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
     Learn to labor and to wait.

Lectiones bonae pro diebus pluviius

‘My Rainy Morning’, by KatrinaStranger on DeviantArt

On those days when the weather is not conducive for enjoying the outdoors, turning to reading is always a good bet. Rather than spending one’s time glued to a television set, which certainly cannot be good for your mental state, a book is always a better option. It baffles me how few books people actually read, especially when you consider the greater availability and diversity to choose from. Even those people who do read are probably reading some nonsense like ’Fifty Shades of Grey’ or ‘Twilight’. It does not always have to be a book either; there are poems available for purchase or even online.

I spend a considerable amount of my time reading. Most of my interest lies in classical works. Anything written after WWII has not been read by me. It seems that after the war Western culture took a nosedive into oblivion. We ceased making culture and began attacking it instead. T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, and R. R. Tolkien seem to have been the last wave of great English literary figures and with their passing so too passed Anglo literature. Whether it continued to live for some time in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, or elsewhere I am not sure.

My suspicion is that this is due, in large part, to the proletization (not a real word) of our culture. Low culture became the only form in demand while all things that even resembled high culture were ignored or degraded. Television and radio became popular instruments for this proletization because it worked on an egalitarian leveling of society. Value became equivalent to its popular demand. Literature is outside the realm of the market, in its ideal state, because it pertains to loftier notions than being a mere consumable item.

Wherever popularity to the masses becomes the judge of someone or something’s worth, there will be an inevitable decline in its actual value. We can observe this with our leaders, art, literature, music, language, religion, and basically all forms of culture. The masses have an instinctive drive to make it a race to the bottom. Of course, there are Western elites who would agree with these conclusions, to an extent, but our elite are egalitarian elite. They work from some ridiculous assumption that all people should have equally respected opinions on all matters and are all equally capable of higher knowledge if they were simply given a chance.

Any time spent in the real world should immediately disprove these myths. To say Lil Wayne is just as good at creating music as Beethoven, is not simply two equally valid but disagreeing opinions. One is objectively superior to the other. That does not mean you have to like Beethoven but it does mean not only you, but we as a society, should understand there is such a thing as high culture which is objectively superior in form to popular culture. This is the consequence of egalitarian doctrine.

There has always been, in one society, high and low culture. T. S. Eliot noted this fact in his ‘Notes Towards the Definition of Culture’ (1948). But the hierarchy was respected. Unfortunately beginning in the late 19th century and coming to fulfillment in the early 20th century, this respect broke down. A general reduction in the intellectual capacity of the West ensued. Instead of bringing the masses up, the masses brought culture down. For anyone who is not sold on egalitarianism, this would have been easily foreseeable. Culture had to be sacrificed in the name of equality. Literature was perhaps the last art form to succumb, with visual art having arguably fallen in the early 19th century.

At some point egalitarianism will become an abandoned concept, hopefully before it lays waste to the struggling remains of Western civilization. Once this time comes we will be able to rebuild our societies. Respectable visual art, music, politics, leadership, and literature will arise again after being given some breathing room. In the meantime it is the responsibility of everyone who has a hierarchical view of society to preserve and transmit the great works of Western minds. Below are some of my personal favorites that I believe deserve to be read and appreciated by everyone.

‘The Waste Land’, by T. S. Eliot

‘Divine Comedy’, by Dante Alighieri

‘Revolt Against the Modern World’, by Julius Evola

‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, by Washington Irving

‘Beowulf’

‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens

‘Orthodoxy’, by G. K. Chesterton

‘The Idiot’, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

‘Iliad’, by Homer