William Blake
William Blake

The first and only time, in my life so far, that a piece of music has inspired me to write a poem directly about it, was when I heard a piece of music, composed by Sir John Tavener in 1982 and performed by Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen, whose eighteen members produce the most sublime choral sound I’ve ever heard. It was only by listening to the music, not particularly paying much attention to the words, that I was inspired to write this piece, which is a Haiku Triplet. It wasn’t until a little time after completing the poem, which was originally intended as a devotion to my wife, that I discovered an interesting connection between the music and a famous poet, who inspired Tavener to compose it in the first place. Only when I listened to the words, did I discover that Tavener had based his composition on William Blake‘s poem The Lamb, part of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1789. A full circle had thus turned, from poem to music and back again. I find it quite stirring that William Blake’s poem inspired John Tavener to write music to it and, in turn, Tavener’s music alone, my own poem, whose theme turns back to Blake’s original, perhaps because I think the wording of my poem can also be interpreted as devotional in a religious sense. My original title was in fact The Lamb, because that is the title of Tavener’s composition.

John Tavener
John Tavener

The most significant feature of this composition, which had the greatest impact on my poetic inspiration, is the way that the music cycles alternately between a seemingly discordant, if not quite atonal, series of musical passages and delicious, heart melting harmonies. It had the most striking effect on me. I should confess that I didn’t particularly like the piece at first, but now, every time I listen to it, I am transfixed and cannot help myself tearing up and choking at its beauty. It seems simply to mirror the cycles of life’s experience – from its hardest and most difficult periods to its happiest and most joyous moments and, with it, our responsibility to stay strong, particularly for those we love, through good times and bad, from the discordant times to the harmonious ones.

I cannot find a YouTube recording of The Sixteen singing this piece, but because of its brevity and simplicity, it is important to hear it with the purity and perfection of the best voices, in order to capture its depth and spirit, and the Tenebrae Choir, founded by Nigel Short of the famous King’s Singers, here provide the nearest thing I can find to this quality:

I think I’ve captured the essence of the Japanese poetic form of haiku, which is the seventeen-syllable 5-7-5 three-line verse structure with a requirement to contain “season words,” or Kigo. The choice of this poetic form was very deliberate, not least because it is, by its very nature, capable of distilling the essence of its subject and because Tavener’s composition is also brief, at only three and a half minutes.

Notwithstanding the background, the fascinating influences, coincidences and connections, this poem was and is dedicated to my wife, with whom I have shared a few highs and lows during our nearly forty years together.

This may seem an odd thing to suggest you do, but, in spite of the fact that the choir is singing Blake’s words, I do like to read my poem (contemplatively), whilst listening to the music at the same time …

I leave it to you.

Devotion

(aka “The Lamb”)

From the coldest snow
To the warmest sun you go
And I go with you

From blossom of spring
To golden leaves of autumn
I bathe in your light

From the beginning
To ending of the seasons
I am ever yours.

– John Anstie

© 2011, essay and, poem (edited 2013), John Anstie, All rights reserved

[The poem was also published on the Marriott Love Poems Competition website in March 2011; it didn’t win any prizes, but gave me a bit of a buzz for a short while].

Photo credits ~ Blake sketch by by John Flaxman circa 1804 and in the U.S. public domain; Tavener by Clestur via Wikipedia and under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
You Tube video uploaded by shawshank4u

John_in_Pose_Half_Face3JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Oc casional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer.  John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).

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John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

6 thoughts on “Devotion

  1. John: Thank you for sharing this sublime blending of voices, theTravener work and your touching blessing for your wife. Such a beautiful blending of love, devotion and art I have seldom experienced in any medium. I am grateful to you for sharing it with us!

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  2. This was immensely thoughtful. I love the inherent use of the “cycle of life throughout the entire process.” And needless to say I truly appreciate the devotion that you have for your wife and she for you. We are celebrating 31 years at the end of October. I also have significant appreciation for your haiku triplet with it proper use of kigo. So many write haiku without the use of kigo – which of course are not haiku at least to me. Thank you so very much for this thoughtful piece.

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  3. Multiple layers of inspiration when you come down to it . . . and we never do know where the inspiration will come from. The Travener work is quite wonderful and new to me (thanks for the intro) and the poem is touching … I am sure your wife – Barbara? – was delighted. Lovely! 🙂

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