Handel’s hopeful Messiah

  • 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.



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