Friday, 2 January 2009

Walking On the Edge of Eternity

Tidal Pools, Amble, 1 January 2009

Coquet Island, from Amble, 1 January 2009

Amble Pier, 1 January 2009

Harbour Entrance Light, Amble, 1 January 2009

Amble by the Sea, 1 January 2009

So here hath been dawning
Another blue day;
Think, wilt thou let it
Slip useless away?

Out of Eternity
This new day is born;
Into Eternity,
At night will return.

Behold it aforetime
No eye ever did;
So soon it for ever
From all eyes is hid.

Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881

OUR SCHOOL HAD A SONG AND A PRAYER. The song was in Latin, and something of a rip-off of a common school and university song in Great Britain and on the Continent about the brevity of life, best known by its first line Gaudeamus igitur, meaning Therefore let us rejoice… It's also a drinking song in Europe, especially popular in the pubs in Vatican City where the national language is still Latin. I made that bit up. But it is a drinking song. The European first verse goes:

Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus.
Post jucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.

This translates as:

Let us rejoice therefore
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After the troubles of old age
The earth will have us.

Warwick Academy, in Bermuda, poached the first two lines and then inserted two verses about bears (the school crest featured one chained to a stump, the better to be baited), and rising up and flourishing, and Quo Non Ascendam (the school motto: To what heights might I not ascend?). Included from the original full version was Vivat academia, which speaks for itself. Omitted in the Warwick Academy song was Vivat omnes virgines (wisely, it would have been a lost cause). We did not sing Post molestam senectutem because, don't you think, it looks as if it might mean After being molested by old teachers.

And we roared out the School Song on those relatively few occasions on which we had to sing it. I'm guessing if there were 550 pupils at the school in about 1965, perhaps ten knew what the Latin words meant in English. I cannot say I did. I didn't even know what the translation meant when I came across it. But we roared, we let rip.

The only other song we really put our all into was Jerusalem, with lyrics by William Blake. That most English of hymns: Think the WI, think Jam and Jerusalem. And I cannot imagine, in our tremendous effort, our near or actual shouting, we had a clue about what Blake was trying to convey. Blake had gods and angels all around him, much as Yorkshire men have ferrets in their trousers… A way of life.

A shame that Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetry has not been made into hymns or school songs as he rests somewhere between the divine and the rodent, don't you think? If Andrew Lloyd Webber is looking for a subject for a new musical, how about Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Solos for seabirds, shanty songs, aria for an albatross. Fire and ice. It could be fabulous.

Back to Warwick Academy (and I hope I never go back, never set foot there again!) I must tell you that I was recently discussing accents with an old friend from schooldays, over the telephone, seven hours across the divide. Perhaps I shouldn't name him, so let's just call him Richard. Now, Richard is an actor and a drama and English teacher, and he speaks well, and not as American as some, I suppose because he spent much of his childhood in Bermuda and he has learned how to project his voice, how to make himself heard. My accent is a mess. I use the English expressions and words, but the squawk that I emit is, at best, some sort of Canadian version. However, I'm fairly good at making myself understood: It is a reasonably clear voice. Hell, I sat in on enough of Richard's 10th Grade drama classes; I should know how to deliver a few lines.

And Richard mentioned the rehearsals we had to go through at Warwick Academy prior to any events featuring the School Song and School Prayer. He, too, recalled the loud, almost joyous, alehouse rock we put into Gaudeamus Igitur, but then said to me: "Remember Miss Devlin and the School Prayer and gra-aw-aw-awnt?" And I did.

Miss Devlin, I believe, was responsible for the music for the School Song and for the Prayer. Reggie Frewin might have fiddled the Latin. Miss Devlin was a peculiar woman, always wore a full length grey fur coat (in Bermuda!) and dark glasses. She spoke with an English drawl; she was very Jam and Jerusalem, even with the Irish moniker. Reggie Frewin was an English fellow, a first cousin of Winston Churchill, all rather proper. But if Miss Devlin could be said to have a broomstick up her jumper, Reggie was often loose as a goose. He was well eccentric.

Miss Patricia Devlin wanted the School Prayer chanted as if by boys at Eton, Harrow or Rugby, and not by the scholarship boys there, god-damn it! If the Prayer had a name, I don't remember it. I think of it as Look with Favour (or Cook with Flavour) - the first three words of the thing. I don't recall much more of it. Let's have a go:

Look with favour
We pray thee, Oh, Lord,
Upon this our school.
(Yadda Yadda Yadda)
And grant…

And one must not sing grant the way Ulysses S Grant probably said his surname. One must not, must never, ever, sing like an American. One must elongate the word grant into at least four syllables: gra-aw-aw-awnt. And so we would overdo Miss Devlin's instructions, chew the scenery, until she'd stop playing the piano, stand up and throw a fit. Her fur coat would have fallen off the piano bench at that moment, if you wondered.

Reggie Frewin died some years ago. So far as I know, Pat Devlin is still around, though she must be awfully ancient by now. I think of her as a menopausal old trout fifty years ago! Seems to me that Miss Devlin was transferred from the music department at Warwick Academy (a school for the better class of white children) to a primary school that was, even after racial segregation ended, pretty much entirely black Bermudian so far as pupils went. How the hell did she adjust? I imagine not a great deal of Latin was sung at that primary school, but the Bermudian accents. Gad!

It's now 2009, and I have to write January, which can be a bugger to spell if I'm drowsy (often!) and I'm wondering if the world can get much messier. Of course it can, but many of us know that it will improve eventually. (William Blake: Without contraries is no progression.) Some people have the means to get through some lean years, and there are tens of millions who will simply starve to death or murder one another. I'm not sure whether the poster child for famine gets time, or has the capacity, to wonder where his next meal is coming from. The wondering is throttled by the pain in his gut.

Yesterday, New Year's Day 2009, I went walking along the coast to the south of Amble by the Sea with young Cailean. I had wakened early and we were en route at sunrise, and I took a few photos of the dawn, the sky over the North Sea. A clear, cold and perfect sort of day.

And, in my head, I sang one of the hymns we sang at Warwick Academy: So Here Hath Been Dawning, which features the words of Thomas Carlyle. This hymn has a lovely melody, and in my head I hear no wrong notes.

Cailean sniffed about, his first New Year's, and I wondered if it is wrong to feel so bloody happy when others are not. Hell, let's sing:

Gaudeamus igitur!

Happy New Year! To a Latin beat!


suz said...

oh bolphie, what fun! you and the old bro, talking about the warwick days. were they really so awful? bermuda high school for girls (bermuda horse stable for goats) is so wrapped about in a nostalgic haze for me. i hate to see the new buildings crowding all over our beautiful old field, the giant rubber tree missing, the BOYS creating miasma in the ivy-shrouded halls. i know i hated a lot of stuff there but i don't remember any of that. i just remember what i loved.
amble is beautiful in the wintry dawn.
:) khairete

sarah corbett morgan said...

Lovely sentimental post about Old lang Syne, Ross. My high school had a school song as well, but damned if I can remember it. But I forgive myself because of the number of schools I attended. I guess I figured I'd be moving on shortly and never bothered to Log it In.

I love that about singing inside one's head. No wrong notes.

The photos are beautiful in a stark sort of way. I particularly like the one of the pier with the busy-ness of manmade things contrasted with the sky, clear and unencumbered. Very nice.