The Ravello Dialogues - Part 4

PILGRIMAGE - THE MUSIC OF THE SOUL

Sometime later the Countess, the quietly mysterious Maude and I continued our conversations. This seems to have a nocturnal quality, perhaps simply because it turns more on Maudes theological views than the earlier conversations. I myself, as well as my music, moves from the one to other, to and fro, from the Platonic delights of the Countess to the more melancholy spirituality of the other lady.

The conversation grew from a curious piece of text, from a letter by Peter Sterry to his son.

"Let us ever remember that we are here in our pilgrimage and Disguise. Let us have our own country and the way to it ever in our hearts

Musick made by the heavenly spheres of the divine beings themselves in us, by the Charms of which even our house, our Pilgrimage, and all things in it are turned into heavenly dances and delights."

(Peter Sterry - Selected Writings ed. N I Matar, University of Kansas 1994)

MAUDE

We are always travelling. We are drawn by faith in another country, somewhere peaceful, complete and beautiful. However much we love the world through which we pass it is only ever a byway on our journey.

I

There are so many ideas in this one fragment of Sterry. He is a forgotten man but in a mysterious way he brings together all the themes that matter to me. He touches for a few moments an ideal balance of Platonism and Christianity. He knows his Ficino and understands the hidden music in the world.

COUNTESS

This short letter unites us all. Here is the idea of Pilgrimage, and the Music of the Spheres sounding in the Soul which seems to echo Marsilios "De Amore."

MAUDE

His sacred references are to Psalm 119 and the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking of our pilgrimage to the Holy City.

I

There are questions here for which I would like to find an answer.

How do I find a balance between the love of this world, knowing it is more than ever changeable, and a desire for another world which I sense in the pursuit of music?

What songs do I sing when I know the Music of the Spheres is in my soul?

MAUDE

There are those who would reject this world and those who see it as the Book of Nature, a way of knowing God. I would ask whether we can ever know the eternal world in this life without loving the temporal world? We may only know truth through our experience of transitory things. We must value the world, and at the same time become aware that there is another world, shining beyond the veil.

COUNTESS

Some would say that we should look no further than this world. Love the veil of nature.

MAUDE

Is the value of nature only in the way it reveals higher things? We have already considered the view that we know ideal reality through loving individual things. We love people through loving a person. We love nature through loving a garden or a simple plant. Unity is known through variety. The love of an individual thing shows us beauty, form, life. We must be detached enough to love, through the appearance or the image. If we love a flower and fancy it will last forever we are clearly fooling ourselves. We can love it for its transitoriness and learn to love beauty from it. We can only learn that love by loving the temporal world as it is, changeable, growing and decaying.

COUNTESS

Do we need anything more? Why do we desire the other world?

MAUDE

We desire it because we know it. We know beauty. We know that the form and meaning of nature is not in the natural changeable features it presents. A beautiful place may remain beautiful if all its parts change. Its beauty still remains as an Idea when everything temporal is gone. We still remember the song when the singers have departed.

I

Or the nightingales?

COUNTESS

We remember it. Others do not. I have heard some who deny God speak of wonder and delight in Nature. Wonder and Delight are our images of God and the eternal. Do such people forget the song?

I

And are they fit only for treasons, stratagems and spoils?

You both love the world as it is, frail and mutable. You both have a desire for that world beyond the veil - and so do I. The source of my music is not in the changeable world of nature, though nature may sing the songs and provide the language. Is there any difference between your views of that world? Maude may think of the HeavenlyCity. The Countess thinks of the Realm of Ideas, or Venus house of fair aspect, as Spenser calls it. Are they the same?

MAUDE

There is only one truth or it is not Truth. We may use different languages. We may argue about our language but we cannot argue about what is true. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews may have known his Plato or his associates may have passed on a Platonic feeling through the Jewish philosopher Philo.

COUNTESS

And I wonder if the writer of the Gospel of John knew the Symposium. What other dialogue about Love could he have used as a model for his dinner party conversation? Our we for ours, indeed.

MAUDE

He may simply have been inspired but there is a parallel if there is truth in both traditions.

I

We agree that we are on a pilgrimage to another world. We are citizens of that city?

COUNTESS

Oh, yes.

MAUDE

My heart is there.

I

Is everyone, can everyone be?

MAUDE

At heart, but it is a blessing or curse to some of us to be aware of its calling. Many may happily live a simpler life; many may live the life of that City within this temporal world, simply loving. An artist, or a person of prayer, both, perhaps, flawed people who are unable to live a simple, single, life, may know themselves to be strangers and pilgrims.

I

As pilgrims what should our relationship with this earthly world be? Do we care for it? Do we observe it and pass on? Do we have a responsibility to make it like that other world through our art or our ethical and social life?

MAUDE

Is it possible? Some try to impose unity a parody of the simplicity of the City - onto a very different reality. To impose unity is to go against nature. As we have previously considered only the infinite variety of nature can find Unity.

I

I agree. It's always a disaster if we try to impose a political order inspired by unworldly images of Unity. We have two choices - to remove ourselves from the world and follow the negative way, or to try to live through love and justice. We can never impose our own dreams of unity on others.

MAUDE

No, or we damage divine variety - the fecundity and creativity of nature. The constantly creative nature finds unity through Forms rather than any imposed order that tries to recreate a primal state.

Let us all, if we are composers like you, write beautiful and true string quartets. Let us not try to write one monstrous work in which everyone has an inhuman part.

I

Would you not wish for religious unity?

MAUDE

The Church is both a spiritual and a social or political body. It is the earthly part of the Heavenly Kingdom. In what way it should achieve earthly unity I could not say. Perhaps it is meant to be an unanswered question, but it is never true to say that the Church is only a spiritual unity. It struggles to be incarnate. Churches are not temples but images of the Temple. The church is the Eucharist. It is a shared community of not only earthly, living, people, but also the saints and all others past and present. The Communion of Saints. There are those who have found their true selves in the Kingdom and those of us who celebrate imperfect and broken life "below. There is one Temple and there may imperfect and broken temples. I am not sure I would have it any other way. It expresses Unity in its brokenness.

COUNTESS

Is this Heavenly Kingdom the same as the Platonic World of Ideas?

I

I would say so. The Ideas and the Soul are eternal. We have previously considered that this World of Ideas is not an abstract, static thing but the cause of all creation.

I would accept that the immortal Soul (whether one or many) is eternally existent. I would not accept the existence of people living in another world after death and yet somehow as they are now. That seems to be a fairly recent misconception.

MAUDE

"Eternal soul" is misleading, perhaps. Platonists may believe that souls are pre-existent, but the Christian tradition is that souls are created individually, but are immortal.

Do you feel you are a member of community with these eternal or immortal souls?

I

Yes. When a loved one dies we may suddenly be aware of the reality or wholeness of that person, even if we may feel, in our earthly way, that the life has been cut short before its time. The Soul, the true nature, of the person may suddenly become known. I remember the dead child in the poem Pearl appears as a beautiful maiden. She never lived to adulthood but her Soul appears as the true Pearl maiden. Both Soul and Eternal City is the thing the earthly world aspires to but it may never materially become that Ideal. It doesnt need to. How awful it would be if I wrote a perfect piece of music! It would be unnatural and destroy desire.

COUNTESS

We, living now, may become aware of our own Souls as they are in that place and should be on earth reflected in the eyes of a beloved or in the image of a guardian angel. There is a tradition that guardian angels are the reflections of our Souls, our Ideas.

MAUDE

We, our souls, are eternally present in that world and we have glimpses of it as we walk here. We are drawn through the Workings of Love to become ourselves and, by walking in two worlds, to reveal the eternal through our footsteps.

I

Yes, indeed. It is more those glimpses which inspire us and drive us. I know this from experience and I gradually come to understand it.

I may be a Citizen of an Eternal Kingdom but the wonder is that those glimpses inspire us to love the temporal world. We do not reject it. We live in the Eternal Kingdom when we listen to the hidden music in this world, just as we find truth in music however tragic and broken.

MAUDE

Perhaps the answer is to say that there are not two worlds but one. The division is in us. This world takes its form from the eternal more than that it is a partial view of the eternal. In a Glass, Darkly, as St Paul said. We do not live in a separated creation but always in the Mind of God.

I

Yes, I feel the truth of what you say. It is a treasure that has often been lost. We are within an emanation of God, not a creation which is separated from God. The two alternative views are views of one reality and both as old as each other. Our arrogance can make us wish to be separated and independent.

I am gathering my treasures.

Love as the energy which draws things to their Forms in the Mind of God.

The Unity of Temporal and Eternal Worlds.

We are Citizens of both Worlds.

The Soul is Eternal, our Idea or Form.

We are inspired by signs in the world to reveal the True Kingdom to others not to make this world like the eternal (because there is only one world) but by love, creativity, variety revealing Truth.

So far this seems to accord with both the Countess's Platonism (or is it Ficino?) and Maude's Christian vision.

MAUDE

Mr Ficino is more in accord with Christ than he is with Mr Plato.

COUNTESS

I do not follow any philosopher. I am what I am.

MAUDE

Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, whom you would find very congenial, Mr Mordant, calls the signs of God in the world "Vestiges".

I

I am beginning to understand my relationship with the world through which I make my pilgrimage. Not to escape it, but to love it, to reveal the eternal through love and work and in doing so to affirm the value and meaning of the world.

More and more I realise that my life has been shaped by this. The experiences and mysteries of it may take 30 years to resolve, but they follow one journey, one story, one vocation. I am thankful that I myself have never felt "complete but always feel the need to travel.

MAUDE

The need to travel is the desire to discover the new world. The ancient pilgrimage was always to a place on this earth where heaven and earth were linked, not to a "world to come." The tradition, perhaps a Protestant one, of which Sterry speaks of may seem a denial of this world hoping to leave it. A pilgrimage to an earthly place may become idolatry. We should not travel to a delusion or an idol which takes the place of God, but we should travel to see, or meet, God in the world and in doing so become Citizens of the True Kingdom. Holy places to which we travel may be holy in themselves or memorials or holy lives or events, but they are never an end in themselves.

MORDANT

The Puritan pilgrimage of "The Pilgrims Progress" is an escape from this world, and yet to me it had the opposite effect and one that was enormously important to my journey. I imagined Bunyan's pilgrimage in real earthly landscapes and it became a story of a journey of discovery through real places. It gave me the desire to travel and the travelling is my work whether on real or imaginary roads.

COUNTESS

Imagination is always "real." The imagination is our means of understanding the world, sensing, arranging, judging, remembering. Our imagination is the laboratory of the senses, the gallery of the memory, and through it we discover truth. Art, the work of imagination, is never an escape.

As a classicist I would say that favour works that are purely themselves, abstract forms rather than representative, but these pure forms are the distillation of meaning, the concentration from nature and experience. Pure art, pure music, is natural in itself.

I

True. There is a tendency to use music or the other arts as fantasy, creating an alternative world, which can be an escape.

COUNTESS

A fantasy may be true. It can only be distilled from nature but it can be unsatisfying and unnecessary.

True music does not imitate. By being true to itself it inspires the listener to open their eyes and ears to truth in the world.

I

What would Maude see as the truest music?

MAUDE

Music may be praise and worship but the music our friend speaks of is worship and praise in its purity, by being music. It need not be "about" praise or worship. All music is a reflection of the music of the Holy Trinity, God eternally loving, creating.

MAUDE and the COUNTESS

Music should be valued as a divine gift with its own truth, as the essence of natures language, and not made a servant or imitator.

I

I agree that this is an ideal to work to, but I may find it hard to achieve with my melancholy side and the need to use music as a comfort or meditation.

COUNTESS

If we may go back to Mr Sterry's text..

He speaks of the "musick made by the spheres of the divine beings themselves in us.

This is a charming proof that Mr Sterry knew his Ficino intimately. Our souls are composed of the same harmonies as the planets and they sing their own part in the same symphony.

I

What can this mean to our modern scientific world? The ancient belief was that the universe reflected the same harmonies as music. The ancient solar system was a gigantic musical scale. The planets sang their notes and guided a particular mode, a mood or emotion or archetypal quality. These same harmonies are in our own Souls, which, after all, a part or reflection of the Soul of the World.

Even if we know that the universe is not a simple harmonious sphere, or series of spheres, we do know that music is true. Harmony is real. The fundamental harmonies may be true in all levels and kinds of existence. It may not be possible to analyse this in detail, but we could say that the meaning of Sterry's words still has value. The Soul is made up of the same harmonies as the cosmos. We might equally say that the archetypal qualities in the Soul are also true in the whole of Nature.

We are made of the stuff of Nature, so our Souls must be also a reflection of the Mind of Nature.

COUNTESS

In 20th century terms we might put it that the psychological archetypes, the underlining qualities of the mind, are also true in all Nature. And they sing together.

I

Yes, the meaning is clear. Ficino can be read as a picturesque language of psychology. The ancient view of the planets is still true as a diagram or graph of archetypal meaning.

MAUDE

In your melancholy moments, Mr Mordant, you may use music as a comfort and a meditation. Even if you imagine you are creating an alternative world, or an escape, you are, in the process of composing, meditating on the language of all Nature. If you meditate on experience or a beloved place in your music you are also meditating on the language of nature itself, and this can only lead to God if the artist works in humility and does not attempt to reflect himself. All people in themselves are images of God but that image becomes distorted if it reflects itself. Our true nature should be to reflect others, or the world passing on the "regard" of God for creation.

I

The artist should always be humble. His only delight is in revealing something to others. If he achieves a work of any quality it is as much a surprise to him as to anyone. Ideally all artists should be invisible.

MAUDE

We are part of one music. We do not deny this world in our pilgrimage. We reveal the True Kingdom in our songs, which become Dances and Delights.

I

This is must be my vocation.

(Notes July- August 2007)

GO, IF YOU WISH, TO PART 5