Oratorios have held an oversized psychological grip on my family. Both my paternal grandparents sang in choirs. Both uttered the hopeful descanting words of Handel’s Messiah. Yet both committed suicide. I have been puzzled by that dichotomy since the age of eight. That was when my father wept in a frightening way, retelling the grim saga … Both untimely and unnecessary deaths.
With this dramatic domestic backdrop, I have been haunted by Handel’s Messiah over decades. About five years ago, one December Sunday morning I wrote a poem, trying to capture the spirit of Handel’s composition. In under an hour I had it well on the way.
At church that morning, I gave a copy to my (Anglican) clergyman. It was with a view for him possibly using it at a Christmastide service…perhaps. Just as the service was starting, the clergyman approached me and said: “I would like you to read this poem out to the congregation in twenty minutes please.” You could have knocked me over with a feather!
After I read out my passionate poem, and returned to my pew, there was a stunned silence throughout the whole church. The seated clergyman took a long reflective pause…then continued with the service.
Your powdered wig framed a complacent face,
friends discourteous, delighted at your disgrace;
rejection-pain camouflaged near-regal poise,
empathy-composed arias, full of tears and joy.
You brooded over primal waters, swirling deep;
reckless your heart, purse not yours to keep.
Snide clergy attacked, belligerently berated,
biblically blind, harpists of cold fate;
“holiness won’t be sung on music hall stage.”
– our toothless saviour lives in another age”.
Carping critics slobbered, snarl teeth bared:
wounded noble stag, slow death just spared.
Au revoir to salons, all social amenities,
opulence patrons and crass obscenities;
prayerful, prostrate, empty on bare floor,
food declined, locked tight study door.
Holy words underlined this sacred song,
Christ’s ambassador, message strong.
Delivered in days, musical masterpiece:
singers pushed, strings cry without cease,
Germanic precision, passion married art,
Messiah’s melodies ably crush hard hearts.