DeathMusicPoetry & ProsePsychologyReligion

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.