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March 2021

Psalm 69:1-2,7-9

Save me, O God,
 for the waters are come in, even unto my soul.
I stick fast in the deep mire, where no ground is;
 I am come into deep waters, so that the floods run over me.

And why? for thy sake have I suffered reproof;
 shame hath covered my face.
I am become a stranger unto my brethren,
 even an alien unto my mother’s children.
For the zeal of thine house hath even eaten me
 and the rebukes of them that rebuked thee are fallen upon me.


The first two verses are not included in today's Mass reading. I just like them. This is one of the imprecatory psalms, full of curses for the psalmist's enemies, and God's. Verse 23 has some relevance for our society.

Let their table be made a snare to take themselves withal 
 and let the things that should have been for their wealth be unto them an occasion of falling.

Psalm 71:1-2

In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust, let me never be put to confusion,
 but rid me, and deliver me, in thy righteousness; incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou my strong hold, whereunto I may alway resort;
 thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defence, and my castle.


Ronald Knox Again

I'm just finishing up A Retreat for Lay People, which I planned to read over Lent, and have actually followed through on that plan. There's a lot of really good stuff here, a lot of quotable stuff. The next-to-last chapter is about Mary Magdalene, and this seems a good note for what will most likely be my last post, apart from the psalms, until Easter Monday. 

...for her, the interior virtues. She is the heroine of contrition; and contrition does not, of itself, alter the external fact of our sins; it only alters our attitude towards them. She is the heroine of resignation, and resignation does not help us to do anything; it only helps us to suffer, with patience, those bad times which will come to us whether we are patient over them or no. She is the heroine of hope; and hope does not change the course of the world's history; it only enables us to look forward, in a dark hour, to God's promise that the course of history will yet be changed.


Psalm 27:1-2

The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
 The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
When the wicked, even mine enemies, and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh,
 they stumbled and fell.



Psalm 22:16-17

For many dogs are come about me,
 and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me.
They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones;
 they stand staring and looking upon me.


The opening of this psalm is surely one of the most important for Christians. Usually it's not too far from what I grew up with in the King James:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Though I don't recall hearing the words that follow:

why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

"Roaring" sounds pretty odd to our ears, and presumably had different connotations at the time. I think I'd remember it if it had been widely quoted. 

New American:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?

But Coverdale adds something noticeably different:

My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me,
and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?

I wonder what his warrant for "look upon me" was. 

Psalm 18:1-5

I will love thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence,
 my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.
I will call upon the Lord, which is worthy to be praised;
 so shall I be safe from mine enemies.
The sorrows of death compassed me
 and the overflowings of ungodliness made me afraid.
The pains of hell came about me 
 the snares of death overtook me.
In my trouble I will call upon the Lord,
 and complain unto my God.


Psalm 40:11-13

I have declared thy righteousness in the great congregation;
 lo, I will not refrain my lips, O Lord, and that thou knowest.
I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart;
 my talk hath been of thy truth, and of thy salvation.
I have not kept back thy loving mercy and truth
 from the great congregation.


No psalm today

The psalm for Mass is not from Psalms, but rather from the book of Daniel: Daniel 3:52-56. Obviously that is not in the Coverdale Psalms. Moreover, it is not in the Coverdale Bible, of which the Psalms are as far as I know the only widely-used survival of that translation. 

The reason it's not in the Coverdale Bible is probably known to those who are more biblically literate than I am: it's not in any Protestant translation, because it's only found in the Greek Septuagint, which Protestants don't consider to be authoritative. I only learned this because I thought I would see how it read in the King James, and couldn't figure out why in various online KJV sources Daniel 3 has only thirty verses. 

Some Protestants, notably Anglicans, kept those and some other segments of Daniel as "apocrypha," which is why most Protestants probably don't know that marvelous passage known as the Song of the Three Young Men (or variants) in which Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego (as I learned their names long ago) invoke a long list of things, beginning with "All ye works of the Lord," exhorting them to "praise and exalt him above all for ever." There is a great musical setting of it, more or less a chant as I recall (though it's been over forty years), that I heard once or twice when I was an Episcopalian. 

Psalm 102:1-4

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
 and let my crying come unto thee.
Hide not thy face from me in the time of my trouble;
 incline thine ear unto me when I call; O hear me, and that right soon.
For my days are consumed away like smoke
 and my bones are burnt up as it were a fire-brand.
My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass
 so that I forget to eat my bread.


The reading for Mass does not include 3 and 4 ("For my days," etc.). But I'm including them because I think they're pretty powerful.

Psalm 23:4-6

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , I will fear no evil,
 for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me;
 thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.
But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
 and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Ozu: Late Spring

As I expected, I liked it more this time. Such a simple story: a widower and his daughter, who's getting on into her twenties. He wants her to get married--or does he? She doesn't want to get married--or does she? The resolution of the situation is fairly straightforward, and deeply poignant. 

Knowing that the film was released in 1949 made me wonder about the conditions under which it was made--I mean both the physical and psychological conditions, the war having ended only four years earlier and the country still under occupation. There is no direct reference to the war or the occupation, which seemed puzzling. According to Wikipedia, filmmakers--and everyone, I suppose--were subject to a certain amount of censorship by the Allies, which explains this curious absence. A few images like this one are implicit references to the occupation:


You'll notice that the sign is in English. A bit after this moment the two bicyclists pass a sign giving the load limit of the road, also in English. 

Psalm 89:1-2

My song shall be alway of the loving kindness of the Lord;
 with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another.
For I have said, Mercy shall be set up for ever;
 thy truth shalt thou stablish in the heavens.


Psalm 106:23

So he said, he would have destroyed them,
 had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the gap 
 to turn away his wrathful indignation....


This is a case where the Grail translation strikes me as more powerful:

Then he spoke of exterminating them....

No real difference even of emphasis, but somehow "exterminate" seems more intense.

Miserere: Music For the Holy Week Liturgy...

...performed by the Westminster Abbey Choir and the Abbey Consort, under the direction of Martin Neary.

I received this CD as a gift a few years ago, a fact which I mention because the cover photograph would probably have kept me from buying it for myself.


This picture of a rather malevolent-looking young man struck me as the sort of thing a record company might do to get the attention of a browser (this was 1994) for what I presumed to be a sort of anthology of liturgical music on the themes of Holy Week, with Allegri's well-known Miserere as the selling point. I say well-known because even if you don't recognize the description you may well have heard it, as its striking long high ornamental melody has been heard in sound tracks.

I was wrong on both counts--about the photo and about the music, I mean. More about the photo shortly, but the music is by no means a casual miscellany, as the number of different composers included had led me to suppose. It is instead a carefully constructed program of first-rate music beautifully performed. I've listened to it five or six times in recent weeks, and it's become a favorite. 

The centerpieces, so to speak--more accurately, bookends--are two settings of the Miserere, or Psalm 51. In addition to Allegri's, there is one by Bai. Here is what the very extensive liner notes say:

It was a desire to set this remarkable pair of Miserere settings in some kind of fruitful apposition that was the point of departure for the present recording. This gradually assembled itself around their twin poles to form a near-palindrome of chant and polyphony for Holy Week: a musical meditation on the Passion and Death of Christ that revolves slowly on itself like a solemn ring-dance of penitence and mourning. 

Plainchant and polyphony alternate. The first track is a plainchant hymn, "Vexilla Regis" ("The King's banners"). Next is Allegri's Miserere, then the plainchant antiphon "Christus factus est" ("Christ was made obedient"). And so on. Next to last is the Bai Miserere, (credited to Bai and Allegri, for reasons discussed in the notes), and then a closing plainchant hymn with a refrain (I think) composed by King John IV of Portugal.

The polyphonic works were all written in, roughly, the late 16th and early 17th centuries, except Bai's, which is a bit later. The other composers are, in order of appearance, Lotti, Gesualdo, Gabrieli, and Monteverdi. Of their works included here, I like Gesualdo's best, which is not surprising. Church polyphony is in general a kind of music for which I have more respect than genuine love. I usually feel like I don't entirely get what's going on; I suppose I'm not sensitive enough to harmony, and the kind of instantly affecting melody that one hears in the Allegri Miserere doesn't appear very often, at least to my ears. But there's something about Gesualdo's music that appeals to me, something that seems a bit strange and a bit dark, though that latter perception may be partly a result of the fact that the only music of his that I've heard is for the Tenebrae service. And perhaps even something to do with the fact that Gesualdo is, as far as I know, the only composer of note to have murdered his wife and her lover.

Which brings me to that photo. As I mentioned, the liner notes for this recording are extensive, including a very detailed essay which focuses on the performance history, both technical and historical, of the Allegri, as well as the Latin texts and their English translations. (The two Miserere settings were for more than a century heard only in the Vatican during Holy Week, and were a very big deal. Dickens tried to get in, but couldn't; Mendelssohn did, and made a transcription of the Allegri. The fourteen-year-old Mozart had done the same, only he didn't bother to actually write it down till afterward.) By the time I got to the acknowledgments at the end of the booklet, I didn't pay much attention: thanks to "the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, all at Sony Classical," etc. etc. But later, trying to find out who was responsible for the cover, I read them more carefully, and discovered this credit: "Roberto Valeri (Prince of Venosa)". 

Then it dawned on me, and I checked Wikipedia: yes, Prince of Venosa was Gesualdo's formal title. And the back cover of the booklet shows the prince in an attitude of devotion, touching a crucifix to his forehead, and looking troubled. 

So that cover which I found off-putting is actually a subtle comment on sin and repentance, most appropriate for the project. According to Wikipedia: "The evidence that Gesualdo was tortured by guilt for the remainder of his life is considerable...."

Not surprisingly, this recording of Allegri's Miserere is one of many to be found on YouTube:


Psalm 51:17

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit 
 a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.


Psalm 51 appears a lot in Lent. No wonder: in Latin its first word is "miserere"--have mercy--and it's the text which has been so often set to music and known by that name. This verse is also especially familiar to many Protestants. The King James translation is very similar. The Grail, on the other hand, seems to me a bit weaker: 

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

Yasujirō Ozu: The End of Summer

I very much liked the two Ozu films I've seen, Late Spring and Tokyo Story, in spite of some difficulty in adjusting to the mannerisms, especially the vocal mannerisms, of a language and culture so different from mine. As I said when writing about Late Spring back in 2011, it's

a difficulty I've had with other Japanese films made prior to 1960 or so: the facial and vocal expressions are just culturally different enough for me to feel that I'm not quite sure what's going on underneath, not quite connecting as I should.

It's hard to explain, but there often seems to be a disconnect between the sounds I hear and what they seem to mean based on what the character is saying and the expression in the voice. 

I've seen Tokyo Story twice, which is at least part of the reason why, after the second viewing, I decided that I like it a little better. But I want to see Late Spring again. Ozu made several films with similar seasonal titles, and I'm working my way through those I haven't seen, which now leaves Early Summer, Early Spring, Late Autumn, and An Autumn Afternoon. That list is in chronological order: Late Spring was made in 1949, An Autumn Afternoon in 1962. 

I'm not sure why I picked End of Summer as my next one. Like the other two I've seen, it's a very low-key family drama involving partings of some sort. It seems that Ozu has produced a series of delicate and subtle variations on a modest theme. There is not much "drama" here, using the word in the colloquial half-slang sense that's developed in recent years: no shouting, no weeping, no accusing and demanding. These three films at least are centered on generational connections and their dissolution. This is not violent rebellion, as has been typical of American and European art since at least the '60s, but the quiet relinquishing of ties as time and especially the changing times push or pull families apart. It seems more than likely to me that the changing times are more important than they may seem at an outsider's glance. It's never given more than passing mention, but it seems present in things like the juxtaposition of traditional and modern dress, of street signs and advertisements in Japanese and English ("Drink Coca-Cola!"), of urban and pastoral imagery, and in the rarely-mentioned but significant awareness of the war.

As for the specific film that I sat down to write about: well, for the first half of The End of Summer I didn't like it as well as the other two. That's in great part because I wasn't sure what was going on. The family relationships are more complex, involving more people, and I had trouble keeping track of who was who and exactly how they were related. As far as I noticed, none of this was ever directly explicated. I'll admit that there was an element here of the Westerner sometimes having trouble distinguishing Asian features when they are somewhat similar: I had that problem with two of the three young women, sisters and a sister-in-law, who, to my eyes, looked rather like each other. This is not quite as ethnocentric as it sounds, as I sometimes have the same problem with Euro-American films where there are two characters of the same sex, age, and coloring. (The third young woman was played by Setsuko Haro, whose face is pretty distinctive and memorable.) 

TheEndOfSummerNoriko, Akkiko (Setsuko Hara), Fumiko (l-r). I don't have any trouble telling Noriko and Fumiko apart when they're together. 

The plot involves the misbehavior of the family patriarch (no problem recognizing him) and is mildly comic--only mildly to me, anyway--through the first two thirds of the film. But all around this man's foolish renewal of a past romance with an old flame who's grown cynical (if she was ever otherwise) there is that air of puzzled melancholy as the younger generation wonders what to do with him and with themselves.

Whatever disappointment I felt in that first hour or so was compensated for by the fact that the film is in color. The characteristic long still interior shots are just as they are in the other two works: taken from a couple of feet off the floor, looking down a hallway with people coming and going at the other end, looking from one room into another, looking through a door to outside, from ten or fifteen feet away so the visible area is very small. These views of the characters from a certain distance could have the effect of making theme seem isolated, but they don't work that way for me. Instead, by giving the interiors so much space, the effect is of people very much enclosed and protected within a receptive home. And the color makes one aware of the richness of the houses and furnishings--there's a lot of warm wood--in a way that black and white can't. And as for the exterior scenes--well, the landscapes made me want to visit Japan.

Towards the end I was very much won over. The final twenty minutes or so are as powerful as anything in the other two films, and perhaps even more beautiful. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it and might do so, so I won't say any more. I will certainly be seeing this one again. 

I had about decided to cancel my Criterion Collection subscription, as I had gone many months without using it at all. There just didn't seem to be all that much there that I wanted to see, and the app or site or whatever you call it is obsessed with...well, let's just say cultural trends which don't interest me. But recently I made an effort to search out directors like Ozu, and found enough to make the service worthwhile for another few months anyway. 

I can't find a trailer online, but YouTube seems to have several copies of the whole film. Must be some sort of copyright gap.

Psalm 81:5-7

This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony
 when he came out of the land of Egypt, and had heard a strange language.
I eased his shoulder from the burden 
 and his hands were delivered from making the pots.
Thou calledst upon me in troubles, and I delivered thee *
 and heard thee what time as the storm fell upon thee.


This is one of the few instances I've seen where there's a striking discrepancy in the translations. The standard liturgical translation has:

An unfamiliar speech I hear:
"I relieved his shoulder of the burden
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you."
Unseen, I answered you in thunder...

Psalm 25:3-4

Shew me thy ways, O Lord
 and teach me thy paths.
Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me
 for thou art the God of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope all the day long.


Interesting "wrong" use of "learn" there. It survived, maybe still does, in the South, among uneducated people. 

Psalm 42:1-2

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks
 so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God--
 when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?



Psalm 19:7

The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul;
 the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.


cf. Grail: "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul"