Measured Extravagance

2001-04-07 - 11:49 p.m.

Online find of the day: The Waste Land in limerick form, thanks to Smartypants.

I finally switched Superdrag and His Name Is Alive out of the car stereo and replaced 'em with Alfred Deller's O Ravishing Delight which is a collection of gorgeously depressing Elizabethan airs. Well, there may be a happy one or two in there, but for the most part it's gloriously heartbreaking stuff like John Blow's "The Self-Banished":

It is not that I love you less than when before your feet I lay;
But to prevent the sad increase of hopeless love, I keep away.
In vain, alas, for ev'ry thing I have known belongs to you;
Your form does to my fancy bring and makes my old wounds bleed anew.

This is pretty enough, set to music, but it's the following track that I've been playing over and over - Jeremiah Clarke's "The glory of the Arcadian groves." When I first heard it, I mistook it for something from a Bach cantata - what with the double flute obbligato and the word "glory" warbled over and over, I automatically assumed it was a church piece and failed to pick up on the melancholy import of the song until I read the lyrics afterward:

The glory of the Arcadian groves
That tuned our smiling loves,
That 'decked the graces and plumed their doves
Whose warbling notes the wood made ring,
That waked the morn and cheered the spring
Is gone and ne'er to return.

After which I played the song again, and oh, how the closing lines now haunt me with their delicate but heartrending finality:

The glory of the Arcadian groves is gone, gone, gone
and here, here, here
ne'er to return.

I don't have the physical equivalent of vanished groves in my life - one of my college dormitories is going under the wrecking ball soon, and there's a certain motel in Lexington, Kentucky that was demolished many years ago, but I can't say I feel much nostalgia for the actual buildings. That said, I know whereof the singer speaks: I wouldn't call it "glory" myself - that word comes cheap, these days, and would sound overblown coming from my lips or my keyboard - but what shall I call it, that exultant, buoyant, radiant thrill of feeling utterly awake and alive? That is what I remember as I hear the singer's lament - it isn't absent from my present life, and it certainly wasn't omnipresent in my youth, but I can imagine that in Arcadia - Eden - it wasn't hard-won from the world that's so with us late and soon, but simply there. And exiled from Eden, the singer can be certain that it will never return - because it is the singer that cannot return to the unwary, untroubled grace that seemed a given so long ago.

And yet - here's irony for you - I felt most awake today as I was drifting off to sleep on the sofa this afternoon. I had been drinking tea and reading a magazine, and when I set both aside the cat settled herself into the crook of my arm, and I thought to myself how luxurious it was - how lucky I am - this moment of being able to set aside the world for what is here.

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