Half Cadence

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Performing in the beautiful St. Salvator’s Chapel, St. Andrew’s

An audio recording of this article is available here:

As an accompanist, one of my favorite things to do when a rehearsal needs some comic relief is to begin a cadence but stop before the final chord. Hearing a dominant chord ringing without resolution drives my fellow musicians insane. I revel in this small rebellion.

Usually, though, I cannot handle the aural discomfort either, and I surrender to the tonic chord. Especially with the added suspense of the unresolved preparatory chord, it is lovely when every tone settles at last into consonance. It’s like a period at the end of a sentence, a bow on top of a present, a fitting simile at the conclusion of a quippy blog post.

Unfortunately, a lot of times life is like an unresolved cadence. The more entrenched in adult life I become, the more complicated the world seems. As an aspiring poet, I allowed myself to lament this in verse. However, I am also a pragmatic soul who recognizes that, while angsty poetry can be beautiful, existential crises can only go on for so long and don’t generally make things better. Eventually, we simply must lay aside our journals and return to our work and relationships, no matter how uncertain we may feel.

Several times before, I have drawn on the two constants in my life—faith and music—to make sense of my situation, and this is perhaps why an unresolved cadence became such a striking idea. Musical analogy often makes clear to me what otherwise seems overwhelmingly complex. Well, right now, I am living in an unresolved cadence.

I cannot rush ahead to the resolution as, this time, I am not the one in control of the keys. Still, as dissonance strains toward resolution, I, too, must move forward in anticipation. Although many things are uncertain, I can sound out possibilities as I continue to work, pray, and hope toward my next steps.

I remember, too, the reality that there will always be tensions and unfinished cadences. Indeed, all of life—and especially the Christian life—is lived in the rest between chords and in the expectation of a final, perfect, triumphant cadence. For now, I suppose, just realizing that I am in a time of not-yet resolved tension is enough to sustain me.

Now, how about some poetry?

I rest in preparation of the final chord,
In the echo of a tonic held within—
Unresolved, hearing not what I strain toward,
Riding inverted waves again, again, again. . .

I rest in the plague of an unsung Amen,
A half-writ chorale lacking its last word.
Unsure of the tune, I struggle through the hymn,
Hoping against harmony for a radiant risen third.

I rest in a cadence not yet concluded,
Awaiting consonance beyond my skill,
Unhearing, all my practiced art denuded,
Trusting deafly to my own Composer’s will.

I rest in accented anticipation:
Untempered dissonance awaiting revelation.

Poems and Trees and Such

It is National Poetry Day and I feel compelled to participate. Unfortunately, I tend to be much better at prose and the occasional limerick. Don’t believe me? The crowning achievement of my poetic career is this, written in eighth grade and shared by my dear friends throughout the entire school during a poetry appreciation event. Thanks again for that, guys.

There once was a girl named Ryanne.

In P.E. she started cryin’.

“I can’t run anymore;

I tripped on the floor!”

But everyone thought she was lyin’.

Pretty inspired, right?

Speaking of Robert Frost, he is one of my favorite poets and of his poems, I have always been especially drawn to one entitled “Tree at My Window” and, having been reading Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, noticed that trees seem to be a common focus of poetry. But why? I am inclined to believe because they are wonderful representations of the central themes of these poems: rootedness in a storm-tossed life.

For instance, in Frost’s poem, he describes the tree as a source of constancy amidst the turmoils of his life, that it has “seen [him] when [he] was taken and swept” and yet remains standing outside his window through storms that it is grounded enough to weather. Similarly, in Ovid, characters are often transformed into trees when they attempt to resist change. On one hand, this can be viewed as a punishment for it removes their human form, but on the other hand it is a blessing for it gives them the stability and constancy that they desired. In a world where change is constant, trees often act as a symbol of the rootedness and reliability that malleable men crave.

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I have seen this in my own life. Being in the woods is calming to me in times of change because I am surrounded by these symbols of stability; apart from the stressors of everyday human life, it is easy to imagine that I am as secure and serene as they. This is what inspired the following, which shall serve as my own little contribution to National Poetry Day.

I would to be a tree

And let my roots grow deep

Into the rocky earth,

My place for ages to keep.

_

A creek would chill my toes

And laugh along its way,

But as a wizened oak,

In my seedling spot I’d stay.

_

The zephyr’d stroke my hair

And wind it ‘cross my face,

But though a dancing fir,

I would deign to leave my place.

_

Birds would nest in my arms

And sing sweet lullabies.

Come morn they’d leave my branches

Stretched toward familiar skies.

_

The storms would rage at me

And break my spreading crown.

Yet limbs and roots remain

And with ease I stand my ground.

_

Willows weep, pines may sigh

But set their roots down deep.

Unmoved by fickle season,

Their homes- lucky trees- keep.

Like the characters in The Metamorphoses (well, maybe not quite as I am still human and have not suffered any unfortunate interactions with Roman deities…) I am experiencing a time of change and my mind found comfort in the constancy of the woods and trees. Although this poem was nothing but the scribbled fancies of a moment alone with my thoughts and is certainly not Frost, it eased something in my soul to write it. And, after all, isn’t that what poetry is all about? Or should I say, “poe-tree“? Okay, that was quite possibly the worst pun I have ever made. Apologies. Anyway, happy National Poetry Day!

The Word Crimes Inferno

In reading Dante’s Inferno, I was struck by his ability to identify, categorize, and assign fitting punishments to various sins. This is not perhaps the most cheerful observation, but it was certainly intriguing and made me think (apologies for the morbidity): what crimes I would punish were I to write a modern Inferno and how would I punish them? Also, who would be guilty of these crimes? I realized after much thought that some of the most pressing “sins” of our times are (*thunder crash and lightning flash*) Word Crimes.

And so, it is with my grammarly pleasure (Yes, “grammarly” is a word. Besides, I made this Inferno, so what are you going to do about it?) that I present to you: The Word Crimes Inferno.

 “Aboriginal AL hops your who entertain hear.”  

It appears that the inscription on the Gates of Hell suffered from faulty auto-correct…I believe they were once meant to read: “Abandon all hope you who enter here.” 


         

This good sir will be acting as your judge and guide.

       

Circle I- Limbo: Here we encounter not the “virtuous pagans” or the “unbaptized infants” who Dante met, but rather those who passed before they had the opportunity to learn the basic rules of language. Poor souls, they had no knowledge of proper syntax or good diction and must live in a world of blank, wide-ruled paper and stubby pencils forever with no hope of achieving the necessary writing skills to escape.

Circle II- The Carnal: In this ring we encounter several familiar faces, including the authors of mindless romances who shall not be named. These souls are those who used language not according to the inspiration of the Muses but rather the urging of their own dirty minds. As punishment, they are forced to listen to their own works being read aloud in a monotone so that they can no longer take any enjoyment from them and recognize them for them for what they are: lifeless and lacking in artistic merit.

Circle III- The Gluttons: Buried in heaping piles of adjectives and unnecessary commas and forced to shout run-on sentences without pausing for breath we find those writers who were never satisfied. These gluttonous lovers of word counts and lists were never satisfied with a single, solid adjective and let commas rain like glitter throughout their work. Shameful, disgusting, unnecessary, pointless, fluffy, over-the-top…that is what these were in life and continue to be even now.

Circle IV- The Avaricious: Here in eternal torment are the ambitious but impatient writers, those who so desperately desired to be famous that they refused to wait for originality. Without consideration for literary worth, these souls jumped on the paranormal romance bandwagon driven by none other than Stephanie Meyer. The most mild of the punishments in this circle consists of reading the fan fictions written by overly-emotional teenage girls while off-key recordings of the Twilight soundtrack blasts from every side.

Circle V- The Wrathful and Sullen: These souls cannot be considered true writers, but still must face judgement. In life, they never wrote anything but complaints and passive-aggressive blurbs, frequently on sites such as Twitter or- in the distant past- MySpace. In this circle, these sufferers continue as they did in life, posting depressing and rude things. However, to make them feel the shame of their crime, they never are able to use the emoji that they intend to use. For instance, a girl lamenting the woes of being single at age fifteen will be forced to accompany her complaint with a laughing emoji and, for good measure, “#blessed.”

Circle VI- The Heretics: The shades in this circle are guilty of boldly declaring skewed opinions and/or misinformations, especially when not wanted. They also tend to use big words that they do not understand and now are forced to research everything before speaking or writing, as well as take regular spelling tests. However, to make this punishment even more painful, they must do this research while broadcasts of political addresses are played on repeat and pamphlets for various organizations rain from above.

Circle VII- The Violent: These are my least favorite sinners: the abusers of the rules of grammar. This word here is the 666th word in this post, so I think the Muses agree that this sin is among the most despicable. I am deeply grieved to say that many people of my personal acquaintaince might be doomed to this circle, where their grammar mistakes become reality. For example, if one were to write “your pretty”, intending to write a compliment, he now will be forced to explain how the other person owns “pretty.” When he cannot, he will be jabbed with scalding red pens by the editing demons. They also must scroll through Facebook and correct every instance of incorrect grammar that they encounter, all the while weeping over their crimes. (Or, as they might say “they’re” crimes. Forgive me.)

Circle VIII- The Fraudulent: The criminals here are guilty of twisting their language to suit their purposes. In this ring, we find the forgers of “fluff”, the frivolous fillers that English teachers command their students not to include in essays. We also find those who used quotes out of context to support faulty claims. Now they are condemned to carve bare facts onto stones using rusty nails so that they can no longer pervert the writing. To make this even more difficult, they must do so while struggling to stay afloat in a pool of foam which parallels the fluff that could not support a sound argument.

Circle IX- The Traitors: These wretched souls knowingly committed numerous word crimes and thus are considered total traitors to the English language. They are eternally sentenced (heeheehee) to be chewed headfirst between the covers of a hardcover Oxford Dictionary with teeth made of freshly-sharpened number two pencils. Let us not dwell any longer on the horror of this center circle.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your journey through The Word Crimes Inferno.  Please note that I will not actually throw anyone into this wretched place…mostly because it does not exist…