Every so often I feel the urge to tell the world what I’m reading. I’ve thought, I’m going to write and tell the world about this essay, that novel, this poem, but I’ve almost never done so. The explanation is I’ve been too busy reading to jot down my reactions to the written material. And now that I’m actually beginning, it’s not because you need to know what I read and what I think, but because I need to nudge someone in the ribs and say, golly, wow, how beautiful, how sad, how simple and true, how complex and elusive! In short I enjoy a treasure most richly when I can share it. The loneliest person in the world must be he who looks up and regards El Capitan and has no companion to share the wow.
I’ve found the most effective way to make someone yawn is to read a poem aloud. This doesn’t stop me from doing it; the power and beauty of a poem so often compels me.
My day starts with a package of poems. These are psalms, attributed to David, the poet-warrior king of ancient Israel. I read these religiously. Like all actions that are ritualised, the ritual intended to enhance meaning can bleach it out of sight. I regret how often I bleach out beauty through simple inattention. But when an accident of biorhythm or a pang of piety actually slows my recitation I can stumble across purple passages* like this:
Praise God from the heavens
Praise Him from the heights
Praise Him all His angels
Praise Him all His hosts
Praise Him sun and moon!
Praise Him all starry lights!
Praise Him the utmost heavens!
Leviathans and all deeps
Fire! Hail! Snow and Mist
Wind of storm
All work His word
The mountains and all Hills
Fruit tree and all cedars
Carnivore and Behemoth
Creeping thing and bird on the wing
Earthly kings and all nations
Potentates and all earthly judges
Youths and also young girls
Old men together with young lads
Let them praise the Name of the Lord…
While you yawn let me tell you how I love this tumbling catalogue of beings and phenomena, its plenitude, its richness, as the poet, God-drunk, calls the roll of the universe; how he brings into chorus every voice (Creeping things! Snow! Leviathan! – did David imagine what we now know and record – that the great whales sing?) – his imagination fires his love into hyperbolic song. After King David I had to wait for Gerard Manly Hopkins for such spiritually excited verse.
As I remarked above, golly.
*The translation is my own. Don’t blame King James.