Friday, October 2, 2009

Music for The Rest of Us

There are times when I miss the 18th century.

This piece is one of them. Here are the words of John Dryden set to Handel's music; the first chorus from the "Ode For Saint Cecilia's Day."

In all candor, I don't really believe in the "natural order." If there is an order in nature, then it has precious little to do with us. It certainly isn't about us. I don't really believe that the diapason closes full in man. We are as disposable to nature's economy as everything else.

And yet, so far as we know, we are the only ones in the universe who ponder nature's economy and our place in it. There may be other beings out there who do likewise, but we haven't met them yet.

I may not believe that the creation is orderly, but I do believe that it is good. To live is always good, even when it doesn't seem so. To exist is always better than not to exist.

It is not the business of art of falsify and to pretend that there is order where there clearly isn't. It is the business of art to make order and to articulate out of the chaos of sensation and the incoherence of experience and imagination.

Or as WH Auden said it so much better in his "New Year's Letter" from 70 years ago:

To set in order -- that’s the task
Both Eros and Apollo ask;
For Art and Life agree in this
That each intends a synthesis,
That order which must be the end
That all self-loving things intend
Who struggle for their liberty,
Who use, that is, their will to be.
Though order never can be willed
But is the state of the fulfilled,
For will but wills its opposite
And not the whole in which they fit,
The symmetry disorders reach
When both are equal each to each,
Yet in intention all are one,
Intending that their wills be done
Within a peace where all desires
Find each in each what each requires,
A true Gestalt where indiscrete
Perceptions and extensions meet.
Art in intention is mimesis
But realized, the resemblance ceases;
Art is not life and cannot be
A midwife to society,
For art is a fait accompli,
what they should do or when
Life-order comes to living men
It cannot say, for it presents
Already lived experience
Through a convention that creates
Autonomous completed states.
Though their particulars are those
That each particular artist knows,
Unique events that once took place
Within a unique time and space,
In the new field they occupy,
The unique serves to typify,
Becomes, though still particular,
An algebraic formula,
An abstract model of events
Derived from past experiments
And each life must itself decide
To what and how to be applied.

And he concludes:

Great masters who have shown mankind
An order it has yet to find,
What if all pedants say of you
As personalities be true?
All the more honor to you then
If, weaker than some other men,
You had the courage that survives
Soiled, shabby, egotistic lives,
If poverty or ugliness,
Ill-health or social unsuccess
Hunted you out of life to play
At living in another way;
Yet the live quarry all the same
Were changed to huntsmen in the game,
And the wild furies of the past,
Tracked to their origins at last,
Trapped in a medium’s artifice,
To charity, delight, increase.
Now large magnificent and calm,
Your changeless presences disarm
The sullen generations, still
The fright and fidget of the will,
And to the growing and the weak
Your final transformations speak,
Saying to dreaming “I am deed.”
To striving “Courage. I succeed”
To mourning “I remain, Forgive.”
And to becoming “I am. Live.”

1 comment:

motheramelia said...

I think it is quite amazing that in "chaos theory", there seems to be an underlying order to chaos. In some ways we might say that the underlying order has to do with God. Without natural order we would not exist since the existence of the world in which we live depends on order.
Love the Auden poem (as usual) and would like to share with you a quote from one of my favorite authors: "New things happen in regimes that we have learned to identify as being 'at the edge of chaos.' Too far on the orderly side of that frontier and things are too rigid for there to be more than a shuffling rearrangement of already existing entities. Too far on the disorderly side and things are too haphazard for any novelties to persist."

John Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion.

It seems to me that art and music and poetry are like this.