American Modern

“Now as I was young…” : Reflections on 'Fern Hill'

by Deborah Grose

An older man reminisces about his charmed youth. He speaks in the straightforward vocabulary of a child immersed in the natural world. The colors (blue, white, green and gold) are basic; the emotions (happy, easy, carefree) are uncomplicated. His boyhood is populated by plants, animals, and the recurring rhythms of heavenly bodies, as he runs, climbs, walks, sleeps, plays, sings, races, and flies. No other humans come into view. Rather, his antagonist is time, whose name he utters on six occasions. Nostalgia turns bittersweet as he acknowledges the inevitability of change and loss and death. In so doing he conjures our awareness that past and present - youth and maturity - innocence and worldliness are opposite poles, but are inextricably linked, even while neither end can fully apprehend the other.

The Hope of Loving

by Benjamin Perry

Poets write of love as that which gives us purpose, that human capacity of deep connection and genuine compassion that makes our lives meaningful. In the fourth movement of Jake Runestad’s The Hope of Loving, the words of Meister Eckhart communicate our need for love. The language is plain and simple, yet penetrating and evocative:

“What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?

It is the hope of loving, of being loved.

We weep when light does not reach our hearts.

We wither like fields if someone close does not rain their kindness upon us.

My soul has a purpose, it is to love.” - Meister Eckhart

So, according to Eckhart, love literally “keeps us alive.” It is both our purpose and an absolute necessity in life. Just as flowers require sunlight to thrive, so do we as humans require the warmth and connection of other beings to flourish. Just as plants need water to survive, we too need kindness to “rain down upon us.”

Eckhart describes another aspect of love: love’s ability to pull humans through the toughest of times; It allows us to endure even the most difficult circumstances. A beautiful example of love’s capacity to shine through amidst dark times is found in the writings of Nelson Mandela. Even while enduring the harsh conditions of prison during the apartheid, he had the capacity to love. He explained that the most painful part of that experience was living with the fear that he might lose his love for his captors. The guards had to be changed out a number of times because they ‘cracked,’ meaning Mandela’s love for them was so present that they could no longer be the ones to keep him locked up. For someone in such extreme circumstances to unflinchingly generate love, goodwill, and compassion for their oppressors is inspiring evidence of our innate goodness as humans and a testament to our deepest sense of love.

The words of St. John of the Cross, in the third movement of the Runestad, add another dimension. He says: “Tenderly, I now touch all things knowing one day we will part.” The word ‘tenderly,’ used in this context, is evocative because it shows a recognition of our impermanence as beings in this world - the beauty that comes from living life to the fullest because of how fleeting and precious life is. In this sense, love proves to be an act of gentle presence. For if we live our lives residing in the fullness of the present moment we truly appreciate the relationships and the beauty that surround us. In the end, it is clear that love is at the same time a necessity for our survival and an element of self actualization. It permeates our entire spectrum of needs.

This poetry is evocative, and Runestad’s music beautifully captures the sense of the words. He carefully sets the text by using creative harmony, exciting rhythmic figures, and the idiosyncratically delicate and soulful sounds of a string quartet accompaniment. Indeed, he brings these sentiments to life in a fresh and exciting way that allows us to reflect on our most primal needs while bathing in a beautiful sound space.

Benjamin Perry is the Assistant Conductor of The Boston Cecilia