Recently, I was introduced to this very old verse, which is attributed to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey:
The things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Henry Howard was an earl in the court of King Henry VIII, and he was the king’s last, and very probably innocent, victim. This unnumbered Earl of Surrey was executed only nine days before the death of King Henry himself. He was known as one of the “Fathers of the English Sonnet” because he introduced rhyming iambic pentameter, divided into quatrains, which was then made wildly popular by Shakespeare.
The poem is not actually the earl’s. It is simply his translation of one of Martial’s epigrams, specifically epigram X:47. This was a popular thing of the day. To take another writers work, translate it, putting your own mark upon it, and then publishing it. Everyone was doing it back then. ;-)
So, with British poetry on the brain, I always come back to my favorite Shakespearean sonnet:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I love this poem so much. I think of it every time I hear of a love that has bent “with the remover to remove.” As much as I like romantic poetry, I find it almost never aligns with both my romantic and my spiritual sensibilities, but this one does.
So, I wanted to offer my own version – my own “translation”, if you will. To me, the first part seems to be pretty specifically about a failed relationship for the author, but then it becomes very spiritual – a testament to the kind of love that comes from God:
Far be it from me to separate two people
who seem to be so in love.
You never really loved me
if you do not love me when I am changed.
And your love was not true
if you could be pried away from me by another.
No, real love is firm.
It weathers life’s storms and doesn’t move.
It is like the North star
That guides every sailing ship at sea.
Love’s depth cannot be judged
based solely on its emotional highs.
Love is not subject
to all of what decays with time.
And, love will stay the same
although and as human beauty fades.
Love doesn’t change
no matter how little or much time is left.
Love will bear it all
unto and through the very face of death.
If this is not true, and you can show me how.
Then I am a monkey’s uncle.
In my last post I was musing about how much I missed going to church today, and it led me to thinking about Mumford and Sons.
Mumford and Sons first hit my consciousness when my best friend, Holly, sent me a link to their song “Little Lion Man” back in February of last year. It’s a really nice song, but I find I have to listen to the radio edit, because the repeated use of “F-bomb” is jarring to me. It may have been said “bomb” that caused me to overlook Mumford and Sons until October 26. I know the very day, because I was listening to KGSR, and the DJ announced that the song had been released the day before. The song hit me from the very moment I heard it. I listened carefully after it was over, and found out the song was called “The Cave” and it was by Mumford and Sons. Color me surprised. Those guys who love the “F-word” so much? I went straight home (it was a Tuesday, and I had some kid-free time) and sat in the grass in my back yard with my computer and looked up the song on YouTube and listened to it and watched the video over and over and over again. I called Jeremiah and made him listen to it over the phone. I called Holly and left a blubbering message on her voice mail about how great that band she had introduced me to was. The next day I downloaded the album, and over the next week listened to it so often in the car that I think my kids know the songs by heart (except the one with the “F-word”, of course). A month or so later I introduced “The Cave” to my dad, who had a similar reaction to it as I did. And, then a month later, the band played the song at the Grammy’s and the bloomin’ thing exploded.
If you haven’t heard the song yet, do:
So, why today, particularly, am I thinking of Mumford and Sons?
By now you know about my foot situation. (Are you SO SICK of hearing about the FEET yet?!) In a lot of ways it really has been nice to have this period of slowing down in which other people are doing all of the care-taking that I would normally do. I am so very thankful that I have the kind of job for which I can take off this much time. And, I am even MORE grateful to those who have not only taken over my jobs but also who have been taking direct care of me. All that said, it can get kinda depressing. It’s been five full days since I left this house. So, what has been playing over and over again in my head today is that line from “The Cave” that goes “I can see widows and orphans through my tears.”
In general, I think that verse is an admonishment to oneself to remember those who are truly in need no matter how sad or hurt or disillusioned one may feel. A reminder that there is no cure for depression like service to the depressed. But, do you know what that song verse really is? It’s a direct reference to James 1:27 which says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (New International Version 2011). Surely everyone can see the beauty in that passage from the Bible. The book of James has some of the most down to earth representations in the Bible of the true religion of Christianity. The author is thought to be James, the brother of Jesus, who did not believe in Jesus as the Christ until after his resurrection and who later became one of the leaders of the church of Christians in Jerusalem. You should read the book of James – again, as the case may be! It’s very short, and very encouraging.
My point is this: wait, what’s my point? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mumford and Sons. I’ve been thinking about how many references to God and Christianity they make in their music. In addition to the above, here are a few other direct references:
From their first full album Sigh No More*:
There are lyrics in “Awake My Soul” that seem pretty specific in terms of referencing God, namely the verse, “Awake my soul. You were made to meet your maker.” But also, the verse, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life” seems to me to be a reference to another Biblical passage. Matthew 6:19-21 says:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (New International Version 2011).
The song “Winter Winds” has many references that can be taken as spiritual, but this little bridge verse is overt:
Oh the shame that sent me off
from the God that I once loved
was the same that sent me into your arms.
Oh, and pestilence has won
When you are lost, and I am gone
And no hope, no hope will overcome.
Go ahead and give ‘er a listen as well:
In a more subtle reference: the song “Timshel” is titled after the Hebrew word meaning “Thou Mayest” and its meaning figures prominently in the Genesis account of the story of Cain and Abel. The meaning of the word itself is discussed pretty extensively and beautifully in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.****
In fact, a person who posted here on a blog on the internets (however reliable that is) writes, “Several of Mumford and Sons are Christians, actually. They go to Holy Trinity Brompton, a big Anglican church in London.”
I think that just about sums it up. Pretty direct references for such a mainstream UK band. I love it. I wish there were more bands like them.**
On to the reference section here, and then I’ll wrap up.
* The album’s title is quite probably a reference to one of my favorite Shakespearean poems from Much Ado About Nothing. And, instead of transcribing it here as I am wont to do, I will just thrust you over to another web page to read it. PLEASE read it. http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/shakespeare/sigh_no_more_ladies.html. I say it is “quite probably” a reference to the play, because in the title song, the first line “Serve God love me and mend” and another line “Man is a giddy thing” are also from Much Ado About Nothing.
**If you like Mumford and Sons and have not yet heard of these other artists, check them out:
Laura Marling (who was, until recently, Marcus Mumford’s girlfriend and who, before that, the girlfriend of the lead singer of the next band…)
Noah and the Whale
The Avett Brothers
*** Ok, one more. Please just bear with one more. I absolutely must transcribe here for you the most salient part of the discussion of the word “timshel” from the book East of Eden. It is really, really great.
“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”
“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”
“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”
Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.
Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”
Samuel put his palms down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”
Lee goes on to tell a story as to how he came to study Hebrew, and the conversation continues:
Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
Oooo, I love John Steinbeck. You’ll be hearing more about Mumford and Sons from me. Jeremiah and I have tickets to their Austin performance on April 26th. I will try to share pics and stories soon after. WOO HOO!
This is the day that has been set aside for Christians to come together and worship God in our respective corporate bodies. This is the day we will sing together – sing to God and to each other. This is the day on which we will come and be together over the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
After service we will probably chat and laugh and generally be encouraged that we are not crazy for believing what we believe. We will be reminded that it is true. That it is not a cult or a group of deluded humans worshiping a god of their own making. That the “proof” is in the beauty of that corporate body called “the Church”. I can’t explain it to those who have not experienced the true Church. I cannot adequately apologize to those who have experienced the sham. I can only proclaim my love for Jesus and his true Church. That much maligned, much faked, much misrepresented, much misunderstood Church. And, today, I missed it.
(Quick back story in case you have missed my constant moaning about my feet on Facebook. :-$ I developed a stress fracture in my right foot in December/January, failed to get it diagnosed and treated until February, and have been in one of those walking boot apparatus ((yes, it’s plural – I just looked it up)) since. I’ve been in the boot for about 8 weeks, because until about a week ago I was unable or unwilling to stay off of the foot long enough for it to heal well, though it was getting better, I promise! That is to say, I was unable or unwilling to stay off of it until about a week ago when I broke the little pinkie toe on my left foot right in two. Each injury, which is little more than annoying on its own, becomes serious in congress, as I now have no “good foot” to lean on. So, for a while, I just can’t walk much – even for church.)
My family and my church family are taking very good care of me. My mom and dad have taken my two little ones back to Georgia while I heal. I get almost anything I need or want from a sitting position right now.
Oooo – except I just made a very shuffled, very painful walk to get more coffee (since my dear husband is at church). Totally worth it.
So, yes, I owe a debt of gratitude, which will only be building in the next couple of weeks, to my various families: Christian, blood, and friend. So, I want to thank you all. Very much.
I have more to tell you about what has been going through my head as I sit here in the cavern of silence that has become my home, but since I have been writing off and on for the last four hours, Jeremiah has wisely suggested that I break this into two blog posts. So, I will go ahead and publish this one and hopefully publish later this evening my ramblings about Mumford and Sons. :-)