Five Mystical Songs: Wiiiam Carpenter Sings
Ralph Vaughn Williams' Songs from George Herbert's Poems
by Gerry Hendershot
A highlight of the Verse and Vision Poetry Festival Concert on April 28 (www.verseandvision.org) will be William Carpenter's singing of a rarely performed piece.
George Herbert was a 17th C. English poet/priest five of whose poems sourced 20th C. composer Ralph Vaughn Williams' song cycle, "Five Mystical Songs."
The best known of Herbert's poems in the song cycle is "Love Bade Me Welcome," which can be read as an invitation to Holy Communion: "Love" (God/Christ) welcomes us, but we hesitate, feeling unworthy; God persists, gently but firmly, telling us we "must sit down . . . and taste my meat."
The text is below, and you can listen to a reading of the poem here, and view a performance of the Vaughn William's setting here.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Herbert sometimes struggled with his faith (who doesn't?), and Ralph Vaughn Williams is reported to have been an atheist when he composed this piece—he later became "a cheerful agnostic." William Carpenter, who will perform the Herbert/Vaughn Williams piece, may also struggle with his faith, but he now pastors three UMC congregations!
William holds a degree in music education and has taught vocal music in public schools. He has performed with local and regional opera and musical theater companies for over 25 years. He is now finishing an M.A. in Theological Studies at Wesley Seminary, and hopes to combine his passions for music and social justice as he continues to follow Jesus on the Way.