There was recently a piece in the Globe about music you should like but you don’t. The author mentioned that Joni Mitchell was on that list for him. That’s not terribly surprising since she is often an acquired taste. Unfortunately the most popular of her songs (Big Yellow Taxi, The Circle Game, etc) don’t represent the best of her work. I’ve never thought it was a beautiful voice, but her music is inspired and her singing is enviably fearless. The Globe writer mentioned a particular song – Rainy Night House – that crawled through my brain like a tune virus for the rest of the day.
Some pieces of art are so beautiful to me it hurts. Participating in their beauty leaves me thrilled but also sad, because it makes me aware of a level of genius – of sanctity?, blessedness? – that is beyond human grasp. I am wrapped up in gratitude for things that are so lovely while being more aware than ever of the gap between myself and the Infinite Loveliness.
What does this to me? Michelangelo’s David. Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock (especially the last few stanzas). The Sanctus from the B Minor Mass. Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus. Hopkins’ Hurrahing in Harvest. Brahms’ Wir Wandelten. Joni Mitchell's The Last Time I Saw Richard. I try to sing these songs, to look at these works, to read these poems and letters and 80% of the time I end up in tears.
What does this to you?
O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.
O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants over our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm light on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured pains of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!
In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light.
We are glad when the day ends,
when the play ends; and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!
- T. S. Eliot