A change of scene: music.
If I have an aim in life, it is to leave behind something of beauty, and this search for transcendence does not take a religious form. I have known it in music, literature, thought, certain psychological states.
If I attain it I imagine myself singing Bach’s Cantata “Ich habe genung” BWV 82. It is exquisitely beautiful in its music, and its lyrics express a longing to leave the mortal body behind, to set aside this world of suffering after having achieved salvation, the embrace of Jesus, the attainment of transcendence. I secularise this longing and pursue i in writing and listening to music. Right now, as I write this post, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is singing this reconciliation of the body and spirit, and farewell to the world, the words of the first two parts of which I paste below courtesy of Emmmanuel Music
Cantata for the Purification of Mary
1. Arie B
Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.
1. Aria B
I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy
to depart from here.
2. Rezitativ B
Ich habe genug.
Mein Trost ist nur allein,
Daß Jesus mein und ich sein eigen möchte sein.
Im Glauben halt ich ihn,
Da seh ich auch mit Simeon
Die Freude jenes Lebens schon.
Laßt uns mit diesem Manne ziehn!
Ach! möchte mich von meines Leibes Ketten
Der Herr erretten;
Ach! wäre doch mein Abschied hier,
Mit Freuden sagt ich, Welt, zu dir:
Ich habe genug.
2. Recitative B
I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine and I His own.
In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough.
Some say that the music is similar to the Erbarme Dich (“Have mercy”) from the St Matthew Passion. I know that aria for contralto and strings, and its haunting striving for mercy, from the long opening credits of the Tarkovsky film, The Sacrifice. The hero of the film , who is some kind of estranged artist/intellectual, sacrifices himself to save his family and the world from nuclear disaster, and which for reasons I can never quite fathom has always enthralled me with its slowness and its draping of human tragedy across the stark interiors of modern culture.
But Bach is always the master of transcendent beauty in my mind, and Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Goldberg variations, in which he plays the variations at half the pace of his 1955 recording, and, on some tracks, audibly hums along eerily with his own playing inspired the following poem from my collection After the Pills (apologies for the poor cover design), which I first published on PoetrySoup.
In the first aria he begins to hum
This is the trace of true art and magic:
At one with the music but different and beyond.
An hors–texte someone might say.
A moment’s expression endures through recording,
this ghost of the artist,
unbidden, improvised, unscored,
not even beautiful,
but it becomes what I listen for each time:
To search again for the traces of the dead in our lives.