22 December 2010

Familiar Voices

I subscribe to the Writer's Almanac - you should go sign up before reading the rest of this.  Go ahead - I'll wait.  

Tuesday's edition led off with a poem that immediately rung a bell.  It was "Noël" by Anne Porter:
When the snow is shaken
From the balsam trees

And they're cut down

And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks

Of many-colored fire

Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing

The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles

And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more

Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases

Of the haunting music

Of the other world

A music wild and dangerous

As a prophet's message

Or the fresh truth of children

Who though they come to us

From our own bodies

Are altogether new
With their small limbs

And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.
I didn't recognize author's name right away, but I recognized the voice.  Oh, did I ever.  Anne Porter, it turns out, also wrote "Four Poems in One," which for me has become an elegy of sorts for my mentor, Pastor Larry Meyer.  They are both included in Porter's collection, Living Things, which I suppose will need to be added to my list of books to be purchased once my book allowance for 2011 is approved in January (said book allowance is generally spent within a week or so).  

December is a time of year filled with familiar voices.  In recent days I've been listening to a Pandora channel built on Chanticleer and Chieftains Christmas music.  First Wife introduced me to Chanticleer, for which I am profoundly grateful.  For me, the strains of In The Bleak Midwinter or Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen (Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming) are hard-wired into late Advent and Christmas, as are The Wren Song and Don Oiche Ud I m'Bethil (I Sing of a Night In Bethlehem).  

I know these tunes from just the first few notes, much like I know the voice of my parents and brothers on the phone, the feel of Beloved's hand in mine, the lilt of a well-turned phrase by Rich Mullins, the common yet always refreshing depth of a Stephen King character, and, now, the depth of an Anne Porter verse.  Familiar voices, all - and is it any wonder that "familiar" comes from the Latin "familiaris," from which we also receive "family?"  I would argue that "familiarity" does not breed contempt:  rather, in becoming familiar with a wider array of voices, we expand the lens through which we view the world.  Anne Porter, in her beautiful poem, has given me something new to ponder this Adventide; for me, becoming familiar with her voice will only add to the beautiful nature of this life we all share.

It is a great gift, adding a new "familiar voice" to those artists and friends who touch our lives.  But this is also a time of year when we miss the old familiar voices, those who have left us - some into death, some into broken relationships, some due to simple distance and dearth of time.  

May this Advent find you surrounded by as many familiar voices as you can muster.  May you also remember fondly the familiar voices you can no longer hear with your ears, even though their words and songs may ring in your heart and soul your whole life long.  We wait with longing for the day we hear those voices again - Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Grace & peace,

1 comment:

  1. thanks for these gifts, Scott! I need to find out about Anne Porter, as well.