Sunday, 8 April 2012

A beautiful Easter ends with a walk along the shore in Malahide

Looking down on the city lights after the Easter Vigil in Orlagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a busy, beautiful and very fulfilling Easter. Early on Thursday morning, we had a Maundy Thursday Eucharist with foot-washing for the institute students and staff. Later I was in Christ Church Cathedral for the chrism Eucharist and the renewal of ordination vows for all in ministry in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

Good Friday on the stairs to the Robing Room in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On Good Friday, I was preaching at Matins and Evensong in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, before returning to Christ Church Cathedral for the Good Friday liturgy there, and then going on to Maynooth to preach at the Good Friday Evening Service in Saint Mary’s, the Church of Ireland parish church which nestles into a corner of the grounds of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

I took Saturday afternoon off to watch the Cambridge-Oxford boat race – a joyful victory for Cambridge, and one the most dramatic sports events I have watched. Later, on Saturday evening, in the mountains above Knocklyon, I was at the Augustinian Priory in Orlagh for the Easter Vigil, celebrated by members of the Orlagh Team, Father John Byrne and Father Kieran O’Mahony.

Father John Byrne lights the Pascal Candle from the Pascal Fire at the Easter Vigil at Orlagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We began outside with the Pascal Fire, lighting the Pascal Candle as we looked up at the night sky above and down on the city lights below. After the liturgy in the chapel at Orlagh, we were entertained to Prosecco, Panetonne, and Colomba Pasquale, the Easter counterpart of Panetonne.

Easter eggs in a crown of thorns beneath the empty cross in the chapel in Orlagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

I was back in Christ Church Cathedral once again this morning, when Archbishop Michael Jackson and Dean Dermot Dunne presided at the Easter Eucharist. And what a beautiful morning it was, with the choir and accompanying musicians giving us a wonderful interpretation of Mozart’s Coronation Mass or Kr√∂nungsmesse (Mass No 15 in C major, KV 317; sometimes Mass No 16).

Mozart completed this Mass in Salzburg on 23 March 1779 after he had been appointed court organist and composer at Salzburg Cathedral. The mass almost certainly had its premiere there on Easter Day, 4 April 1779. It appears to have been first called the “Coronation Mass” at the Imperial Court in Vienna in the early 19th century

Later, five of us went for lunch in Bar Italia, in Bloom’s Lane in the Italian Quarter off Ormond Quay. We strolled back to the cathedral through Temple Bar, and two of us later went on out to Malahide to visit Malahide Castle and then to have a stroll on the beach.

Malahide Castle ... home to the Talbot family for almost 800 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Having visited Howth Castle and Clontarf Castle in recent weeks, I was looking forward to seeing another historic north Dublin family home. This is one of the busiest holiday weekends in Dublin – we had a congregation of about 400 in Christ Church Cathedral this morning, with visitors from all over the world. Yet Fingal County Council has fenced off Malahide Castle, with a tiny notice, almost invisible to the short-sighted visitor, saying the castle is closed until Summer 2012 – without saying when in summer.

Malahide Castle stands in over 260 acres of the remaining parkland from the Malahide Demesne, and the castle and estate have a history dating back to the 12th century, when Richard Talbot was granted the “lands and harbour of Malahide” in 1185. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 12th century, and it was home to the Talbot family for almost 800 years, from 1185 until 1976, apart from a brief period in 1649–1660, when it was held by the Cromwellian Miles Corbet.

After Cromwell’s death, Corbet was hanged and the castle was restored to the Talbot family, who since 1445 have also held the unusual title of Hereditary Lord Admiral of Malahide and Adjacent Seas, which was given to the head of the family by King Edward IV.

On the morning of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, 14 members of the Talbot family sat down to breakfast in the Great Hall of Malahide Castle – and all were dead by evening. After the Battle of the Boyle, the Duchess of Tyrconnell, wife of Richard Talbot, is said to have met the defeated and fleeing King James, who said “the rascally Irish have run away from me.” She replied: “Your majesty has won the race.” To this day, Jan Wyck’s canvas of the Battle of the Boyne hangs in the Great Hall of Malahide Castle.

Despite the Boyne defeat and the subsequent Penal Laws, the Talbot family held on to Malahide Castle, and the towers were added to the castle in 1765. The demesne is one of few surviving examples of 18th century landscaped parks, and has wide lawns surrounded by a protective belt of trees.

In 1831, the Irish peerage title of Baron Talbot of Malahide was given to Margaret Talbot, widow of Richard Talbot, heir of the ancient Lords of Malahide. She was succeeded by their eldest son, the second Baron. In 1839 he was made Baron Furnival, of Malahide in the UK peerage County of Dublin. That title died out on his death, when the Irish barony passed his younger brother, the third Baron. His son, the fourth Baron, was made Baron Talbot de Malahide, of Malahide, in the UK Peerage in 1856.

In the 1920s, the private papers of James Boswell were discovered in the castle, and sold to an American collector, Ralph H. Isham, by Boswell’s great-great-grandson, James Boswell Talbot, sixth Lord Talbot of Malahide.

When the sixth baron died in 1948, the peerages were inherited by his cousin, the seventh Baron, who was British Ambassador to Laos from 1955 to 1956.

When the seventh Lord Talbot of Malahide died in 1973, the barony of 1856 died out, while the Irish peerage title passed to his third cousin, the eighth baron, and Malahide Castle and Demesne passed to his sister, Rose. In 1975, she sold the castle to the Irish State, partly to fund inheritance taxes. But controversially many of the castle contents, including much of the furniture, had been sold in advance. Rose Talbot died at Malahide House in Tasmania three years ago.

Walking in the light rain along the shoreline in Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Later, we walked in the light rain along the shoreline at Malahide, with views out to the offshore islands of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay, with glimpses across the Broadway Estuary towards the pinnacles of Portrane Hospital, and view of the Marina, although there was no sign of Hereditary Lord Admiral of Malahide and Adjacent Seas.

We strolled through Malahide village, and stopped for coffee in Insomnia, before buying the Sunday papers and returning along the coast road through Portrmarnock, Baldoyle, Sutton and Dollymount to the city centre.

She sells sea shells by the seashore ... The Ammonite by Niall O’Neill near the Marina in Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Poems for Easter (1): ‘Easter’ by George Herbert

Christ is Risen ... a Resurrection scene in a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a skilled priest, poet and teacher, and an accomplished musician, who in his poetry brings together poetry, music and architecture. His poem ‘Easter,’ first published in The Temple shortly after his death (1633), is a highly complex connotative poem that is often difficult to grasp.

This poem, in two parts, is an example of how Herbert’s poems sometimes take a double-poem organisation with two separate stanza forms – a structure he uses too in a companion poem, ‘Good Friday.’

‘Easter’ was originally written by Herbert as two separate poems, but the call in the first verse, ‘Rise heart; thy Lord is risen,’ and the musical images of verses two and three, find their fullest expression in the song of praise of the final three verses.

In this poem, Herbert addresses his heart as he prepares for Easter. Reflecting on the Resurrection, he is moved in the first part of the poem to compose a song (lines 1-18), and he then shares this song in the second part of the poem (lines 19-30). There is good reason to believe that Herbert intended the second, less formal part of this poem to be sung to the accompaniment of a lute.

As an accomplished player of the lute, Herbert was a fan of the works of John Dowland (1563-1626). According to the historian of the Diocese of Ferns, WH Grattan-Flood, Dowland was born in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Dowland’s ‘The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, Her Galliard’ (1610) – from Varietie of Lute Lessons, prepared by his son Robert Dowland – perfectly matches the meter and rhyming scheme of Herbert’s ‘Easter’ and may have been intended as the music to which it would be sung.

Reading the poem

In this poem ‘Easter,’ Herbert turns to his lute to assist him in song, and he draws on Scripture to illustrate the poem, drawing on words in Psalm 57: 8-10 and on the theme of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, with its exploration of how we are made right with God through Christ’s death on the cross. Herbert may be reflecting on Romans 6: 4, where we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, being re-created into a new creation.

In line 5, “calcined” is a chemical term referring to the process where impurities are removed from precious metals, or the means reducing things lime or some other similar substance. In this case, Herbert is thinking of how at death our bones are reduced to chalk or our lowest commonest denominator, the dust of which we all are made.

In line 11 (“His stretched sinews”), Herbert pictures Christ’s arms stretched tight on the cross, like lute strings, which in Herbert’s days were made from the muscle fibres of animals. Sacred music was traditionally set to higher keys than secular music – and the tighter the string, the higher the pitch. Christ, stretched out in death on the wood of the cross, becomes God’s instrument, playing a melody of love to the world. The heart responds to the melody by joining with it, as instrumentalists join together in consort to make music. But since none can sing this tune perfectly, a further strand needs to be woven: that of the Spirit who makes up “our defects with his sweet art.”

Just as the wooden cross proclaimed Christ’s saving work, so Herbert’s wooden lute resonates with the same message.

In line 15, “three parts” refers to the fact that most chords have only three different notes that are repeated and multiplied at different octaves in different voices or instruments. Music is an art form that appeals universally through notes and pauses. Herbert’s identification of all music as but “three parts vied and all multiplied” recalls the Trinity, and how this relationship is played out in each of us. As a result, our cacophony becomes euphony as we are harmonised according to the interplay of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A chord of three is not easily broken, and is at its most mysterious yet vibrant in music.

Just as chords are fundamentally composed of triads, Herbert sees the worship of his heart and lute as incomplete without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes “up our defects with his sweet art” (line 18).

The heart responds to the melody by joining with it, as instrumentalists join together in consort to make music. But since none can sing this tune perfectly, a further strand needs to be woven: that of the Spirit who makes up “our defects with his sweet art.”

The change of structure in line 19 indicates the beginning of the song alluded to in line 1. In this song of joyful celebration, Herbert sees the day of Christ’s resurrection as unsurpassed in glory. “Can there be any day like this” (verse 19) – the sun that rises each day of the year cannot shine as brightly as the Son of God as he brings light to the world.

The first allusion in the song, in lines 19 to 22, is to Palm Sunday (see Mark 11: 8-9).

The second allusion, in lines 23 to 26, is to the women who brought spices to Christ’s tomb on Easter morning (see Mark 16: 1-2).

However, the Risen Christ does not need their gifts. In fact, all gifts offered to Christ – including the sun illumining the empty grave, and the Magi providing gold, frankincense and myrrh years before – pale in comparison throughout the year (the “three hundred” days in line 29) to the glory of the Resurrection. For this reason Herbert sees Easter as the definitive moment in human history.

And so, in this poem, Herbert helps us see the love that our Creator holds for his creation. If we read this poem as a contemplative prayer, we find we are encouraged to consider the art of living and dying, as God has done for us, and how we, through faith, do in him. Herbert renders God an instrument – and even God’s body an instrument – and reminds us that we are all included as potential participants in the Christ’s Resurrection, and not just as passive observers.

Trinity Lane, Cambridge, in the snow earlier this year, with the walls of Trinity College on the right ... George Herbert was a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge until he entered parish ministry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Easter, by George Herbert

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Noli me tangere ... a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Interpretation by Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams set these words to music in his Five Mystical Songs, which are being sung at Choral Evensong in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, this afternoon. The Five Mystical Songs, written between 1906 and 1911, sets four poems by Herbert from The Temple, including the first section of Easter, lines 1-18, and received its first performance on 14 September 1911, at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, with Vaughan Williams conducting.

The five Mystical Songs are among the more successful vocal efforts by Vaughan Williams in the years immediately before World War I. Like Herbert’s simple verse, the songs are fairly direct, but have the same intrinsic spirituality as the original text. They were supposed to be performed together, as a single work, but the styles of each vary quite significantly

Vaughan William admired George Herbert for his multiple talents and for his understanding of the nature of music. He collected four of Herbert’s poems, splitting the first poem, ‘Easter,’ to serve as the text for both the first and second of the five Mystical Songs. He set them to music and applied the name ‘Mystical’ to the assemblage, simply because he found George Herbert’s poetry to be rife with that quality.

The songs are generally better served when the optional chorus and orchestra are used, though in the second song a more intimate atmosphere may be preferable.

The first song, ‘Easter,’ shows the poet’s musical proclivities. Beginning with the second verse, Herbert uses a number of musical metaphors in his poetry concerning the passion and death of Christ. As we have seen, he writes:

His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.


Whatever mystical qualities Vaughan Williams saw here, he did not play up in his music, for his style in this song is closer to that of his Sea Symphony (1903-1909; revised 1923), and the overall style comes across as post-Romantic, intimately so in the middle section.

The second song, ‘I got me flowers,’ uses text from the second half of Herbert’s ‘Easter.’ Here again, Vaughan Williams clings to a Romantic approach, though the music is subdued in comparison with the more grandiose ‘Easter.’ The sparse scoring in the orchestral version is largely limited to winds and harp. The one outburst comes at the end when the chorus (or soloist) proclaims: “There is but one, and that one ever.”

The soloist takes a key role in the third song, ‘Love Bade Me Welcome,’ where the chorus has a wholly supporting role – quietly and wordlessly singing the plainsong melody O Sacrum Convivium, while the soloist sings the textual close. This is the longest of the five songs. The text relates a conversation between the poet and Love. The style again recalls that of the Sea Symphony.

The chorus does not feature at all in the fourth song, ‘The Call,’ which is the shortest of the songs. It has a mixture of stylistic elements, from the folk-like character of the melody to the Romantic style of the writing to the religious sense of its serenity.

The fifth and final song, ‘Antiphon,’ with its exuberant manner, its ecstatic energy, and its praiseworthy text – “Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing/My God and King” – is sometimes performed on its own as a church anthem for choir and organ: “Let all the world in every corner sing.”

Five Mystical Songs, by Ralph Vaughan Williams:

1, Easter, from George Herbert’s ‘Easter’

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.
Sing his praise without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand,
that thou likewise with him may’st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part with all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name, who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is the best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song pleasant and long;
Or since all musick is but three parts vied and multiplied.
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

2, I Got Me Flowers, from the second half of George Herbert’s ‘Easter’

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East.
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

3, Love Bade Me Welcome, from George Herbert’s ‘Love’ (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back.
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah, my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

4, The Call, from George Herbert’s ‘The Call’

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

5, Antiphon, from George Herbert’s ‘Antiphon’ (I)

Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing:
My God and King.
The heavens are not too high,
His praise may thither flie;
The earth is not too low,
His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing:
My God and King.
The Church with psalms must shout,
No doore can keep them out;
But above all, the heart
Must bear the longest part.

Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing:
My God and King.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.