Let’s not kid ourselves: Willa Cather could write.
This lyric, from a longer poem “I Sought the World in Winter” is a graceful meditation on the beauty of nature:
I sought the wood in summer when every twig was green;
the rudest boughs were tender, and buds were pink between.
Light-fingered aspens trembled in fitful sun and shade,
and daffodils were golden in every starry glade.
“How frail a thing is Beauty,” I said, “when every breath
she gives the vagrant summer but swifter woos her death.
For this the star dust troubles, for this have ages rolled:
to deck the wood for bridal and slay her with the cold.”
I sought the wood in winter when every leaf was dead;
behind the wind-whipped branches the winter sun was red.
The birches, white and slender, in breathless marble stood,
the brook, a white immortal, slept silent in the wood.
“How sure a thing is Beauty,” I cried. “No bolt can slay, nor wave
nor shock despoil her, nor ravishers dismay.
The granite hills are slighter, the sea more like to fail,
behind the rose the planet, the Law behind the veil.”
And yet, this one leaves me flat. And I think it’s the tune; it just doesn’t inspire or engage me at all. And maybe it’s my mood – I am halfway through this leadership school with 13 of the most incredible, engaged, passionate youth I’ve met, and they are so full of life, laughter, and inspiration – and their songs reflect their qualities. In comparison, this hymn is old, dull, and resigned.
Oh well. I’m sure this is a favorite of many. While it’s not on my Nope list, it’s not one I’m likely to reach for any time soon.
Well we’re going to sing this one this coming Sunday, in an old New England stone church with a very small congregation as spring is finally beginning to come. I’m leading a service on “Heartplaces.” We’ll see if the song gains a little more resonance in that context.