Right Up Yonder

La Roue de For­tune’, from the Payen Tarot of Mar­seille

Throughout human his­tory, in art and reli­gion, we find a longing for deliv­er­ance, the view of a prom­ised land just out of our cur­rent reach, whether some­where else on some part of (myth­o­lo­gised) Earth, or in a world beyond. Such a longing is in one way easy to under­stand if we look at human psy­cho­logy. Faced with dire adversity, our minds some­times have the strength to main­tain a powerful vision of a brighter future, a pro­found emo­tion that we call hope. Often, we hope that things will turn to the better some­where in our life­time, as the Wheel of For­tune revolves. Strengthened by this promise of future hap­pi­ness, we can endure more hard­ship than we might have been able to oth­er­wise.

Some­times, if things are looking par­tic­u­larly bleak, we may start pushing our expect­a­tions for deliv­er­ance fur­ther into the future, even beyond this life. A very familiar example will be the belief in heaven as expressed in chris­tian faith. True deliv­er­ance takes place after we die, and we are released from the woes of earthly life.

I was reminded of this powerful feeling recently when listening to “I’m Going Home”, a song from the Sacred Harp tra­di­tion of choral singing from the southern US. Two of my musical friends, David Colohan and Casey Edward Denman, recorded a duet ver­sion of this song, in what is part of a growing Sacred Harp revival in Ire­land and the UK. You’ll find it here, along with the lyrics:

Farewell, vain world! I’m going home!
My Savior smiles and bids me come,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Sweet angels beckon me away,
To sing God’s praise in end­less day,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Chorus:

Right up yonder, Chris­tians, away up yonder;
Oh, yes, my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

I’m glad that I am born to die,
From grief and woe my soul shall fly,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Bright angels shall convey me home,
Away to New Jer­u­s­alem,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

(Chorus)

One of Södergran’s self-portraits.

Going back fur­ther in my memory, my mind quickly latches onto the beau­tiful writ­ings of Finnish-born Swedish poetess Edith Söder­gran. In her short life, des­troyed by tuber­cu­losis, she wrote quite a number of poems in which a longing for a care­free exist­ence is expressed; not hard to ima­gine for someone whose young life was con­stantly over­shad­owed by the fatal ill­ness that would claim her life at age 31.

One of my favourite poems in this cat­egory is “Landet some icke är”, which was pub­lished in Södergran’s (final) col­lec­tion of the same name from 1925. I give it here in the ori­ginal Swedish, and my attempt at a trans­la­tion:

Landet some icke är”

Jag längtar till landet som icke är,
ty all­ting som är, är jag trött att begära.
Månen ber­ättar mig i sil­verne runor
om landet som icke är.
Landet, där all vår önskan blir under­bart uppfylld,
landet, där alla våra kedjor falla,
landet, där vi svalka vår sar­gade panna
i månens dagg.
Mitt liv var en het villa.
Men ett har jag funnit och ett har jag verkligen vunnit -
vägen till landet som icke är.

I landet som icke är
där går min älskade med gnis­trande krona.
Vem är min älskade? Natten är mörk
och stjärnorna dallra till svar.
Vem är min älskade? Vad är hans namn?
Him­larna välva sig högre och högre,
och ett män­niskobarn drun­knar i ändlösa dimmor
och vet intet svar.
Men ett män­niskobarn är ingen­ting annat än vis­shet.
Och det sträcker ut sina armar högre än alla himlar.
Och det kommer ett svar: Jag är den du älskar och alltid skall älska.

The Land That Is Not”

I long for the land that is not,
for everything that is I am tired of longing for.
The moon tells in runes of silver
about the land that is not.
The land where all our wishes will be won­drously ful­filled,
the land where all our chains will fall,
the land where we cool our cut brow
in the moon’s dew.
My life was a hot illu­sion.
But one thing I have found and one thing I have truly gained -
the way to the land that is not.

In the land that is not
my lover is walking with spark­ling crown.
Who is my lover? The night is dark
and the stars quiver in answer.
Who is my lover? What is his name?
The heavens whirl higher and higher,
and a man-child drowns in end­less mist
and knows no answer.
But a man-child is nothing but cer­tainty.
And it stretches out its arms higher than all heavens.
And there comes an answer: I am the one you love and will always love.

In my rel­at­ively care­less life, I have little need for burning hopes like these, that cut through our entire being. But I feel them all the same, and they are cap­able up sharing a bit of their essence with me at times, so that I too may draw upon them when times are rough.