Charles Dickens & George Frideric Handel: Two Quotes

This is a first in my “Two Quote” series, since it sets side by side not only a written quotation but a musical one.

It’s rare when music is mentioned in literature that I feel inclined to dwell much on it but when the writer is Dickens and the composer is Handel, well, naturally I took the bait. Needless to say, the comic nature of poor Bella’s father’s grimly melodious characterization of his marriage took flight. But then Dickens always did have a way of making you literally laugh through your tears, perhaps even his own as he was at the time estranged from his wife.

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Our Mutual Friend was his last completed work and, as if in a farewell gesture, Dickens throws into it the unrestrained comic genius and dramatic flair of his first novel (The Pickwick Papers, 1837) which brought him the acclaim he richly deserved. In the excerpt below, the “Dead March” from Handel’s dramatic oratorio, Saul, is made to dance to the sorrowful notes of Reginald Wilfer’s portrait of married life.

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Mrs. Wilfer, writes Dickens, “is a tall woman, and angular,” necessarily so according to the matrimonial law of contrasts, her husband being “cherubic.” “It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do,” comprised a part of her deceptively submissive repertoire of aphorisms with which she managed him. Only to Bella, his eldest daughter, is Reginald Wilfer able to relax his guard and venture into unfettered conversation.

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Fauré’s “Sanctus”

“I never had a mother,” Emily Dickinson wrote. “I suppose a mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.” But where mothers fail, God never fails. His is a mother’s touch that is always ready to receive, ready to lift and comfort, ready to provide what is needed. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15).

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Laudate Dominum

More than two thousand seven hundred years ago, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “And I … am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory” (66:18). And He did come just as He promised, in the incarnate Savior, Jesus Christ. Now many peoples of all manner and kind, from every nation, gather to proclaim His glory and praise His name.

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Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

I had never heard this 18th-century Christmas carol until very recently but it has since been playing in my mind, at once familiar & fresh. Though the lyric’s writer is unknown, it has inspired music by, among many others, Elizabeth Poston in the last century and another performed by Lee Nelson & the Wartburg Choir in 2013. (I’ve posted both versions below.)

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As The Bridegroom To His Chosen

On the eve of this Lord’s Day, as I think of those gathering to worship and praise their Maker and their King across the world, I am glad that Scripture is replete with the attempts of the prophets, poets, and apostles to describe the relationship of God to His people. No one metaphor or image is adequate. We need all of them to describe its various dimensions. Moreover, each one expands in scope and vision with each passing day as we walk with Him in the fullness of the knowledge of His love and faithfulness; “for we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 9, 12).

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More than the Bread of Angels

Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. (Psalm 78:25)

The hymn, Panis Angelicus, written by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, comes close to describing the ineffable mixture of unspeakable joy and perfect peace that we experience in the sacrament of holy communion. Yet when we partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ by faith, we are feasting on more than the bread of angels, this manna that rained down for forty years upon the Israelites in the wilderness that the psalmist describes. Instead, by faith we receive Christ Himself, the Son of God incarnate, in a gift of atonement and communion that even the angels cannot know but that by grace we possess through the Holy Spirit leading us into fellowship with the Trinitarian God, a fellowship inscribed within the eternal, steadfast love of the Father.

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Porch-sitting on Wishes

He sat on his front porch, listening:
behind him, the sounds of Corigliano
spun slowly out into the road before him –
Fantasia on an Ostinato – spinning round him
with the centrifugal trauma of gathering desire
inevitably aborted, the weight of a shudder
passing through him like the blunt edge
of a Mamet play: he gripped his arms
to steady himself against the onslaught
of thoughts and impressions, and, yes, wishes
that fled as fast as they appeared, ghostly archipelagos
rolling like gravel out the leaky corners of his eyes.


DP/PROMPT

The Enchanted Castle

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Francis Danby, “The Enchanted Castle” (c. 1841)

When I first saw this painting, I was struck by the intensity of its vision, not simply the artist’s but the lingering figure of the woman by the reflecting pool. She seems oblivious to the slow burn of the golden light beyond the dark overarching trees and the darkened castle. Their shadows have won the day. She looks down, dwelling on her thoughts even as the shadows grow. She seems unaware of the fiery sunset, perhaps unconcerned. Her introspection holds her captive, there by the enchanted castle, be it memories or dreams or affairs of the heart or the world or the steady drone of the day.

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Wrestling Jacob

There’s a story in the book of Genesis of a man named Jacob wrestling with an unknown heavenly traveler.  We are told it’s the middle of the night and that they wrestled “until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24) but as the story opens we are left to imagine why Jacob is so eager for the contest. In the struggle, his “hip is put out of joint” (32:25) and he is lamed but still, despite the overwhelming pain and his opponent’s superior strength, Jacob refuses to let him go – at least until he’s been given the name of this traveler. Jacob had apparently guessed that this man was far more than he appeared to be.

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