Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Digby chooses Hopkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins earned the honor of being first because he was so wonderfully quick in response, but as it seemed a little self-serving to make one of my own poems go first, I have delayed him and begin with the myriad-minded Paul Digby. Every post at The Lydian Stones will contain three sections: a short biography of a featured artist, along with a picture of some kind; his or her commentary on a favorite poem as well as links to further work or information about the poet; the chosen poem. This post contains a little celebratory extra, a piece of Paul Digby's music.

About Paul Digby

A biography is rather difficult for me to write.  I enjoy many aspects of creative work and dabble in musical composition, painting (figurative/portraiture), light poetry, pottery, life drawing, and much else.  I studied composition as a teenager but decided upon a hiatus from that when in my early twenties.  Over the past ten years I have slowly returned to it because I can now write orchestral and choral work using sampled instruments and voices.  There is a very steep learning curve to the process of scoring an orchestral work, but I am tenacious by nature and rather stubborn about the whole thing.  In the past I wrote much piano music (my first instrument) but found that unsatisfactory.  I have recently taken up oil painting, and find this to be a rich experience for me, and one that goes hand-in-hand with musical composition work.  I both paint and write music to express the same ideas at the same time.  Communicating ideas in this way keeps me sane.

Without this, I would simply talk an awful lot.


When writing this music recently--as part of an art show experience --I attempted to express both ethereal and earthy immediacy within the work.

The piece explores the idea of the “ascension of us all”--and also, what we would wish to ascend from.  The boy solo calls to us throughout.

About the poem

I was first introduced to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins while still at school and studying toward my 'A' level in English Literature.  I must have been fifteen or sixteen at the time.  It was the work of this poet that woke me up to the beauty of the sound of poetry.  I realized then that words held meanings that sometimes became more powerful when put out into the air, as music.  For me, poetry is spoken music.  Poetry has rhythm, texture, and tonally modulating qualities that arrest my attention.  It was this realization that woke me up to poetry and I have been awake to it ever since.

Gerard Manley Hopkins' work displays a very strong Christian faith, and although I am an atheist, essentially, I find beauty and integrity in his work and admire his faith and his appreciation of beauty in this world.

I have been reading his poetry for nearly forty years now, and his poetry remains as fresh and wonderful to me as it was the first time I read him.

“Pied Beauty” expresses so much that I love about life.  There is also an acceptance of mystery “(who knows how?)” that I find appealing for its simplicity.

To read this poem is a joy.  To read this poem aloud, well . . . that pushes something beautiful out into the world.

The poem


GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)

Poem in public domain.


  1. What a delight! 'Ascension' is superb. I love the solemn, ominous grandeur of the first third, offset against but not diminished by the jaunty melody that opens the middle section (and then seems to morph into a suggestion of a military bugle call). Impressive and uplifting too is the rolling polyphony that swells and then slips behind the brass and the haunting treble (partially vocoded?) solo voice. Very powerful stuff and giving substance to the claim that music of liturgical nature is often safer in the hands of atheists than devout believers!

    And the choice of 'Pied Beauty' resonates strongly too. It featured heavily in Sunday Assemblies at my Quaker-run progressive school. Impressively, the fact of its transcendent qualities offering as much to the unbeliever as to the believer was not lost on the relatively freethinking Head who read it to us.

    Thanks for both of these gifts, Marly, and thanks, of course, to Paul Digby, whose work I shall be following up.

  2. This is such a lovely comment, Patteran. Marly's idea and execution of this poetry site will be something I shall look forward to every week. It is a lovely thing to be able to see how artists (of all media and genre) are moved by poetry.
    A fabulous thing!

  3. Hello, Dick Jones--

    Paul has been a bit private about his art, but I think if you click on the link on his name, you'll see a bit of his range and facility--he is composer, painter, photographer--and photographer to artists, bespoke frame maker, and more. Sometimes I think there is nothing he has not tried (for pity's sake, he once knitted and created knitting designs sold in France and England!)

    As I was just walking around the house singing the soprano part to the Hopson version of the medieval poem to Mary, "There Is No Rose of Such Vertue," I don't think I can agree that atheists have an edge on believers! Power and beauty is available to all who dare and can wield it, surely. There's a tremendous amount of ravishing and ethereal work out there, much of it obscure (like Hopson, I suppose.)

    But I do think of the marvelous Ralph Vaughan Williams (atheist, later agnostic--though he did once say that in the next life he would be music!) as a splendid example of what you say. Of course, in him one finds a love for the old forms of English music twisted together with spiritual desire, and that is powerful.


    I am glad you are pleased, trala! Lots of people have wafted by and, I trust, had a listen.

  4. If anybody knows how to make the default print size in comments larger in the latest series of templates from blogger, please let me know. I have looked all through the advanced settings and see nothing.

    Also, some of the comments have vanished--why? I'll try and figure that out, and maybe they'll reappear in the meantime. But no worry, I'm not deleting anybody. Shall work out the quirks of a new template soon, I hope.

  5. Beautiful, awesome! Dick has said it well. Paul, I'm in awe and admiration of your many talents and how you use them together, such as here. Thanks for sharing your work.

    Marly, thank you for your generosity in featuring the work of other creative people with your new Lydian Stones.

    Last but definitely not least: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Marly!

  6. Hi marja-leena--

    I'm very glad you like it! And thank you--hope you enjoy the day, too, much younger and brighter where you are. Here it is already night. And now I must go pick up some boy wrestlers and go sing (not with the wrestlers.)

  7. Thank you from me, too, Marja-leena,
    When others enjoy my music... well... it gives me great pleasure!

  8. Hi, passersby--

    Sorry to those who had trouble posting! I was not as familiar with this template as with my old one, and all problems should now be corrected... It is now set so that anyone should be able to post, even Mr. and Ms. Anonymous.

    Please let me know if you see any glitches.

  9. How wonderful! A grand start on a grand project, Marly!

  10. Dale,

    Glad you like it! I do think it will be interesting--right now I have a backlog of six more, mostly painters and writers.

  11. Wonderful! It is so refreshing to hear others openly appreciate works of art. I found this post (and the poem) so optimistic and joyous.

  12. Joyous, yes! Suitable for Paul and for the poem...