we who believe without belief

I’m listening to Mozart’s G minor string quintet (K. 516).  Reading Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Ceremony After a Fire Raid,” and  in William Tindall’s commentary on it sent my mind into many various nooks and crannies including a reference to this string quintet.


Listening to this piece of music makes me wonder what people get out this stuff these days. I’m planning to accompany a Mozart violin sonata movement on Sunday for the prelude for Eucharist. Learning it and performing it with my friend Amy Hertel has been an amazing experience for me. I do wonder how much meaning it might have for the average listener (whatever that is).

Reading Tindall’s commentary is an odd experience. The commentary itself sometimes seems as profound and thought provoking as the poems he is writing about. The Mozart reference presumably illustrates the way this particular poem moves from darkness to light. The last section of the music moves into major from minor.

For me I like the way Mozart sometimes pits two sets of two instruments against each other occasionally in this piece (2 violins against 2 violas).

“Ceremony After a Fire Raid” hit me pretty hard this morning. First of all I have been thinking about the death of Michael Brown because of the all the hoopla about the recent grand jury finding of insufficient evidence to try his killer.

I don’t mean to infantilize Brown. The poem is about the death of a baby. But it does get at the grief of the death of an offspring which can be applied to Brown’s death.

But beyond the headlines, I was also struck by the ritualistic nature of the poem. It outlines a church service in its movement.

“The first part …. is a requiem chant of despair…. The second part combines collect and sermon. The third part combines gloria, communion and organ voluntary.” William Tindall on Dylan Thomas’s poem, Ceremony after a Fire Raid

Ritual is finally for me the only way I can pray at all.

“… we who believe without belief…” William Tindall on Dylan Thomas’s poem, Ceremony after a Fire Raid

Each year around Christmas I pick up Robert Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe” and read it.

Tindall mentions both this poem and another favorite of mine by T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday.

 “Only a ritualist would burn a baby or, fascinated by such sacrifice, continue to celebrate it” William Tindall on Dylan Thomas’s poem, Ceremony after a Fire Raid

It was also startling to me to pick up my daily Dylan Thomas poem and find references to church and organ music.

I was struck at the end of the poem where Thomas writes “The masses of the infant-bearing sea Erupt, fountain, and enter to utter for ever Glory glory glory.”

Tindall writes of the recapturing of the lost sense of “glory” sitting next to Thomas reading this poem in a studio broad cast. Wow.

I also heard the echo of the three fold Sanctus of Isaiah and the Holy, Holy in the Mass in these lines.

Finally, Tindall once again mentions James Joyce and relationships between Dylan Thomas and Joyce. In this case, apparently Leopold or Molly Bloom also admired a work by Mozart that reflects the same movement from darkness to light, the violin sonata K. 11.

Eat Turkey, Become American – NYTimes.com

In the 50s a Minnesota town rallies around a Korean immigrant to get him a renewed visa. Told from the point of view of his kid.

Shakespeare Folio Discovered in France – NYTimes.com

I didn’t realize these folios often have information that tells us how the plays were done. Some handwritten notes such as changing gender of characters and other alterations by the prints in between printings. Very cool.

A Call to Save a 12th-Century Minaret, Heard Far and Wide – NYTimes.com

Interesting story. Good headline writing.


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