Advent IV: Music and Favourite Things

In addition to the tea Advent Calendar, we keep going about four old-fashioned calendars with doors. At this point we must know what’s behind each individual door, but we still enjoy opening them. Today’s tea was a bit like that. It’s a black tea with candy cane pieces called Santa’s Secret. We knew it featured somewhere in the calendar, but not where and when.

It’s a good black tea. We’ve used it before now as a breakfast tea stand in. And after a day running between musical functions, we needed it. There was church in the morning, and then a singing lesson, The Messiah afterwards, where we were good and resisted the muscle-memory impulse to sing the choruses. We were less good at tonight’s Nine Lessons and Carols, where we defected to the descant at Hark the Herald. On the other hand, the alto next to us was having no qualms about singing the harmony line to every verse ever, so it wasn’t just us.

For a tea that’s familiar and predictable, here’s a poem to match. It wouldn’t be Advent if we didn’t give The Darkling Thrush an airing. And besides, there’s still no one who writes winter in England like Hardy. Unless we’re missing someone, in which case, please send material our way.

The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

In keeping with the Hardy, here’s a bit of Holst to go with it that ought to be better known than it is. It’s Hardy-adjacent, but on the other hand, we’re tolerably sure that of all Egon Heath’s many moods, winter was one of them.

And because it’s still Advent, specifically Rorate Sunday, we’ll leave you with the Advent Prose. We would sing them on a loop through the season, if we could, but apparently that’s considered odd. So here’s a choir to do that instead.

Kneel with the Listening Earth

We’re drinking something called Genmaicha tonight, and it’s evidence of a flavoured tea that works. It’s flavoured with popped rice, and if that sounds odd, it doesn’t taste it. It offers a subtle, almost nutty taste to the tea, which means it bears up well against mince pies.

We defend the mince pies, by the by, on the basis that tonight was the Nine Lessons and Carols service. In the days that we were still in the choir, we were always offered them in the reception afterwards as a thank-you, and accordingly it came to mark the point at which mince pies became acceptable Advent fare. Clearly the habit has stuck. Also, we had guests this evening and wanted to offer them a suitable sweet.

We’re still humming the music from the Nine Lessons and thinking of Advent this evening, so we thought we’d cheat a bit and borrow a poem we’ve posted before that anticipates the season.

After Trinity 

John Mead Faulkner

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are here with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

Spring with its burst is over,
Summer has had its day,
The scented grasses and clover
Are cut, and dried into hay;
The singing-birds are silent,
And the swallows flown away.

Post pugnam pausa fiet;
Lord, we have made our choice;
In the stillness of autumn quiet,
We have heard the still, small voice.
We have sung Oh where shall Wisdom?
Thick paper, folio, Boyce.

Let it not all be sadness,
Nor omnia vanitas,
Stir up a little gladness
To lighten the Tibi cras;
Send us that little summer,
That comes with Martinmas.

When still the cloudlet dapples
The windless cobalt blue,
And the scent of gathered apples
Fills all the store-rooms through,
The gossamer silvers the bramble,
The lawns are gemmed with dew.

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.