Saturday, 30 April 2011

Blest Pair of Sirens - Not As Weird A Title As You Might Think

If you, like modern scientifically-biased me, were a little bit confused during the Royal Wedding yesterday by the piece "Blest Pair of Sirens," fear not, I did a little research...

It was a poem written by the great Milton and set to music later by Parry (of Jerusalem fame). In Greek Mythology, Sirens were bad news, but in this poem, they are symbolic of word and rhythm redeemed and put into the service of praising God. (Milton seems to have pre-empted Piper on his explanation of 1Cor.3:21-23 ;-)

I've added in brackets how I understand some of the symbolism, but I may be wrong.

In essence it looks like a plea that Thy Will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt.6:9-10) A call for Earth to be in harmony with Heaven. A call to antiphony.

The modern church has alienated itself from this kind of antiphonal liturgy, (e.g. Psalm 136). Whatever you may say about its historical and ecclesiastical abuses, antiphony is deeply Trinitarian - symbolic of that initiator-responder relationship that makes up the very fabric of reality. Father-Son, Christ-Church, Man-Woman, Heaven-Earth, Jew-Gentile, are just a few examples of how that initiator-responder relationship echoes absolutely everywhere.

We are called to symmetry, not originality. Heaven continually praises the Father and the Son through the Spirit, and the Earth will one day perfectly agree with and echo that praise...

BLEST pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'ns joy,
Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employ
Dead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce,
And to our high-rais'd phantasie present,
That undisturb├Ęd Song of pure content,
Ay sung before the saphire-colour'd throne
To him [God] that sits theron
With Saintly shout, and solemn Jubily,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires [choirs]
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits [saints who are already with Jesus] that wear victorious Palms, [crowns]
Hymns devout and holy Psalms
Singing everlastingly;
That we on Earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In perfect Diapason [harmony], whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that Song,
And keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To his celestial consort [host] us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.

Here it is for those, like me, who want to listen again...


Andrew R said...

I still think Handel's Messiah has the best lyrics.

Richard Walker said...

From what I know of it, it's certainly a lot more straight forward.

Colleen Anderson said...

I was looking to buy the musical score and found you - great. Church organist/choirmistress I am, in Ardrossan, Ayrshire. I marry my music to my faith. Parry was uniquely blessed in his talents and has left us quite a legacy in his sacred works - we should be justly proud. His private life was very unfulfilled, which perhaps contributed to his ability to take our longings and feelings and set them to sublime music. Colleen Anderson

jowdjbrown said...

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jay said...

Just heard this wonderful work for the first time this morning on Clemmy Burton's Radio 3 Breakfast programme. Thank you for your most interesting analysis of the Milton poem... the late nineteenth century certainly didn't lack for mysticism. Thank you also for having set the score to the music and the excellent recording - was it the same recording (Bournemouth Symphony under David Hill with Winchester Cathedral Choir and Waynflete Singers) as the Beeb's this morning? Now that I live in Massachusetts I do miss the great choral tradition of England, so wonderful to get this via the web.