Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marly writes a hymn & more bookishness

Thanks to inverarity for a thoughtful consideration of The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove at http://community.livejournal.com/bookish. Use the calendar or scroll down; the date of the piece is July 10, 2010.

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Since I'm off being writer-in-residence for the M.A./M.F.A. in children's literature at Hollins University, I missed something this morning--hearing the bicentennial hymn that Fr. Samuel Abbott commissioned from me for the Bicentennial of Christ Church Cooperstown. The new rector, Fr. Mark Michael, and Bishop Love were there, and I don't know who else... The marking of the Bicentennial has been going on for some time and is a big event in the life of the village.

Christ Church Cooperstown is a church with a literary pedigree. Novelist James Fenimore Cooper, on his return from Europe, decided it was nothing but a little country church and that he could make it into a spanking new Gothic bandbox. And that's just what he did. Cooper is its best-known writer, but there is his daughter Susan Fenimore Cooper with her beautiful Rural Hours, and there is Paul Fenimore Cooper with Tal. Those three are buried in the churchyard. The victim of Poe's critical pen, the popular poet W. W. Lord, was rector there and is buried overlooking Otsego Lake. And there are more, including the late Fae Malania.

So I was honored to make this little gift to the village where I have lived for more than a decade. The challenge was to write lyrics that would link physical and metaphysical and bind words to a particular church (also physical and metaphysical.) The concrete things that I used were the splendid Tiffany angels in the sanctuary, the setting of church and Cooperstown by Otsego Lake (called Glimmerglass by Cooper), and the excessive weather of the place.

The only other time I was asked to write a poem for an occasion was for a graduation, and I could not do it! My head filled with lint whenever I tried to consider it. It was a relief that this piece flowed easily from the fount and emerged in proper hymn meter. Although many academics hate to admit it, hymn lyrics have been one of the glories of writing in the United States, and I think it interesting to make my little foray into that arena.

The lyrics were sung to the tune of St. Anne, which church-goers of many stripes will know as "O God Our Help in Ages Past." Here's the commissioned hymn:

Glimmerglass: A Bicentennial Hymn

In ice, remember rampant green
And dawns that seared the night;
Within the winter of the year
Recall midsummer's light.

All things are passing like a mist
That rises from the lake
And floats, dissolving into sun
As heat and hue awake.

In Eden, they knew face to face
While we through smoky glass
Must peer--and as in sun's eclipse
May see a brightness pass.

In time beyond recall, a pane
Of glimmering was laid
'Twixt us and Him who knew our names
Before the worlds were made.

The angels standing in a church
Who watch with eyes that glow
According to the changing light
Have seen us come and go,

And we would be quick-eyed as they,
All night and mourning done,
Annealed in glory like a fire,
And brightening with the Son.

Photo credit: I'm not sure who took this one; the photographer is listed as "Cooperstown New York." If anybody knows, tell me!

11 comments:

  1. Lovely Marly. What a tribute if the parishioners should sing your hymn forever after!

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  2. My daughter pointed out that they could dredge it up for the tricentennial... And I suppose that's doing better than most poets, 100 years after.

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  3. How wonderful, Marly. i happen to love many hymns. This belongs, bound with the others.

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  4. Oh, very lovely. Writing for musical purposes is a different beast, I find.

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  5. Hi M. B.--

    Now I'm wondering if you have written lyrics for music as well as poems!

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  6. zephyr,

    Thanks! I give you permission to glue it into the nearest hymnal!

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  7. Oh, thank you Marly! i will do that...or hand write it!!

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  8. Hah, you took me seriously! Well, go ahead!

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  9. Wow, yes mmm. I am sort of back in the world of the living marly, I must catch up on your news and palace gossip!

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  10. Glad you are semi-resurrected, Robert, and will catch up with you anon--right now I'm on the road...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.