The Tyger (William Blake poem set to music)

Well here I go making another cat video! It might be my way of dealing with the fact that I love cats but my beloved partner is allergic and so it’s best for us not to have one in our house.

I’ve always loved this William Blake poem and have tried a couple previous times to set it to music. This week I succeeded (in my estimation). Would be so fun to have Nathan (the aforementioned allergy sufferer) add a wall of guitars but his (non-music) work life has gotten busier so he doesn’t often have the time.

So I used this little hack he taught me – I recorded my acoustic guitar onto two separate tracks – one from a condenser microphone for the acoustic sound, and one from a line plugged into the guitar. I then added my recording software’s default electric amp sound to the guitar line track, which gave me an electric guitar sound to mix along with the acoustic sound. I tried to mark this visually by flipping the video of the “electric” guitar as that track came up higher in the mix. (Flipping also looked cool when I overlaid it with the bass video.)

The video also incorporates some public domain artworks of tigers, which I’ll list in order of their appearance below the words of the poem (below the video). I found all of the art on wikiart.org.

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

“Tiger’s Head” (Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1874)
“Tiger and Snake” (Eugene Delacroix, 1862)
“Tiger and Lion Hunting” (Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 or 1616)
“A Young Tiger Playing With Its Mother” (Eugene Delacroix, 1831)
“Tiger” (Ito Jakuchu, 1755)
“Tiger” (Utagawa Kunisada, 1830)
“Tiger” (Eugene Delacroix, 1830)

The Guest House (Rumi poem set to music)

This is quite a thought-provoking poem (of course it is, Rumi wrote it!). A creative way to look at moods, feelings, circumstances – not necessarily the only way. It’s a good balancing idea for someone who was raised to resist negative emotions, give them no quarter, don’t let them take control.

I’m fascinated with the idea of treating every new mood, thought, happening, as a guest in the house of my life. You give your attention to a guest, interact with them, ask how you may serve them – but you, as the host, remain the master of the house. So you don’t let these guests take over your life, you simply pay attention to them, treat them with generosity and hospitality, until they inevitably go on their way again.

(What I’ve found is that trying to “resist” a negative thought or emotion is really an impossibility – if it’s here for you to notice, then it’s already a reality. Of course you can keep yourself from acting on this negative emotion, but trying to pretend that it isn’t there at all doesn’t make it go away – it might just sneak in your back door and take up residence in your basement, and one day you’ll wonder, what is that awful stink?)

Things like love, joy, wealth, health are desirable guests. Rage, depression, poverty, sickness – not so much. Welcoming these things as guests feels close to the idea of loving an enemy. You are welcome here, but there are house rules, healthy boundaries, that I as the host will require.

In the act of serving a difficult guest – seeking to meet their needs, sharing conversation with them – you may come to understand them better – why they are here, what they need to move on. In the act of serving a delightful guest – turning your attention towards them – you may gain even more delight, deeper memories that stay with you after the guest has gone.

Beneath the video I’m including the lyrics I made and then the English translation by Coleman Barks that I worked from.

Each human life’s a guest house, each day brings something new
A joy or a depression might come and visit you
A moment of awareness, a miserable mean streak
Could end up unexpectedly walking up your street
Welcome and serve them all

And if a crowd of sorrows violently sweeps through
And empties you of everything, still this way is true
Give honor to each guest who comes into your life
They could be here to clear you out to hold a new delight
Welcome and serve them all

Dark thought and shame and malice, arriving in their time
Meet them each with laughter, invite them in with kindness
Be grateful for whoever comes, for each and every one
For each one has been sent as a guide from beyond
Welcome and serve them all

Coleman Barks translation:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem that’s been coming to my mind often lately. It feels more meaningful than ever right now, in our always-on-brand, everyone-pay-attention-to-me, social-media-saturated culture. Being nobody seems so very sane and wise in contrast. With enough nobodies we could change the world I think.

For further consideration, hear this episode of the “Another Name for Everything” podcast with Richard Rohr, discussing the idea of the cosmic egg, and specifically the dangers of over-focusing on “my story.”

Also this “Big Head” episode of Matthew Syed’s “Sideways” podcast, which happened to come up in my feed today and felt truly timely.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson

Initiation (Rainer Maria Rilke) set to music

For week 20 of #songaweek2021 I turned to Rilke for my lyrics. I’d saved this poem with other song ideas I had but I wasn’t clear on its title. An internet search brought me to another WordPress blogger’s post about the same poem, from almost exactly a year ago! The blogger, Jeff Japp, gives two possible interpretations of the poem. And then a commenter asked if it might also be “the-end-of-quarantine poem” – and I hadn’t even thought of that but maybe that’s why I was drawn to this particular poem in this particular week as life around me starts to feel so much more opened up again (a year out from that original comment!).

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.

Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.

And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.

Joke

New Year’s Day 2020

It could be a cruel joke
that the sun keeps coming up
the years keep rolling out
and you and I grow older
withering back to the void
from whence we came

but maybe it’s a generous one
delightful, robust, profound
that we grow and learn and pick it all up
till we shrink, forget, let it all go
and nobody really knows at all
no matter what they know
and peace
at last
as ever
drops
like a bomb from the blue
or the longest-running
loveliest
joke
in the cosmos.