Last night I had the unexpected pleasure of talking for over two hours to a dear friend with whom I had lost touch over the years. She described this process of reconnecting with old friends as “reclaiming.” I love that image.
At one point we were discussing my earlier post on the Stages of Grief (or Transition, as I prefer to call them), and she reminded me that Schumann’s compositions were reflective of these ideas. He knew. He got it. This composer and his contemporaries used the prosody of Goethe, Chamisso & Heine, with their varied expressions, to provide the narrative which so characterized the Romantics. Of course, Schumann’s insight was too acute, and ultimately led to madness, something of an occupational hazzard of the brilliantly talented.
Perhaps song cycles were the therapy of the nineteenth century?
Check out Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben ( A Woman’s Life and Love). Most of the Stages are there. This is a common device in these song cycles, and Frauen is one of his most sublime works. I’ll give a fairly accurate translation of the German for you. These songs are not formally titled, rather they are numbered 1-8.
1. Since I saw him…(anxious disbelief)
2. He, the most glorious of all…(surprise)
3. I cannot grasp it, nor believe it…(denial)
4. His ring on my finger…(disbelief)
His ring on my finger,
it has taught me for the first time,
has opened my gaze unto
the endless, deep value of life.
5. Help me, you sisters…(bargaining)
Help me, my sisters,
help me to banish
a foolish anxiety,
so that I may with clear
eyes receive him,
him, the source of joyfulness.
6. Sweet friend, I gaze upon you…(joyful disbelief…and fear)
About the signs
I have already asked Mother;
my good mother has
told me everything..
She has assured me that
by all appearances,
soon a cradle
will be needed.
Know you not the tears,
that I can weep?
Should you not see them,
my beloved man?
Stay by my heart,
feel its beat,
that I may, fast and faster,
7. At my heart, at my breast…(maybe a stretch, but mild guilt)
Only a mother knows alone
what it is to love and be happy.
O how I pity then the man
who cannot feel a mother’s joy!
8. Now you have given me, for the first time, pain…(depression)
Now you have given me, for the first time, pain,
how it struck me.
He sleeps, my hard, merciless man,
the sleep of death.
The abandoned one gazes straight ahead,
the world is void.
I have loved and lived, I am
no longer living.
I withdraw silently into myself,
the veil falls,
there I have you and my lost happiness,
O you were my world!
Death is certainly a resolution. For this lady, there is no happy future. No hope. We’ve no idea what becomes of her. Somehow we missed the predictable marital spats and ardent passion, but anger would throw the entire tone off in this cycle. As for sexuality, it seems not to have had much of a place in the cultural context.
If you are not in tears by the end of a live performance of this music, blame the singer, for the composer artfully crafted this journey.
I’ll hold up another example for you to consider. Episcopalians/ Anglicans who read morning and evening prayer, from the Book of Common Prayer, follow the Lectionary for daily Psalms in the liturgy.
What has this to do with the Stages of Grief or Transition? Plenty.
The Psalms offer the chance to vent every human passion. Anger, loss, resentment, hope and hopelessness, fear, frustration and depression. Bitterness and spite amke frequent appearances. They also celebrate and discuss love and expansive joy. In the Psalms we are reminded to dance and sing!
Our role model for the practice of praying the Offices is Benedict, whose Monastery in Canterbury existed under his thin volume Rule of Life.
The Psalms embrace the Stages.
St. Benedict believed that the common (community) recitation aloud of these poems promoted mental health, spiritual well-being, and healthy interpersonal relationships of the communicants. Smart fellow.
By the way, one of his suggestions in The Rule is that clergy are not to be trusted.