Thursday, September 02, 2010

Engulfed by Northernness

Today, as I study in preparation for Sunday's sermon, I am listening to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, and I am reminded of C. S. Lewis's words in the fifth chapter of Surprised by Joy. I quote him at length:

"It was as if the Arctic itself, all but the deep layers of secular ice, should change not in a week nor in an hour, but instantly, into a landscape of grass and primroses and orchards in bloom, deafened with bird songs and astir with running water. I can lay my hand on the very moment; there is hardly any fact I know so well, though I cannot date it. Someone must have left in the schoolroom a literary periodical: The Bookman, perhaps, or the Times Literary Supplement. My eye fell upon a headline and a picture, carelessly, expecting nothing. A moment later, as the poet says, 'The sky had turned round.'

"What I had read was the words Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. What I had seen was one of Arthur Rackham's illustrations to that volume. I had never heard of Wagner, nor of Sigfried. How did I know, at once and beyond question, that this was no Celtic, or silvan, or terrestrial twilight? But so it was. Pure 'Northernness' had engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity ... and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago (it hardly seems longer now) in Tegner's Drapa, that Sigfried (whatever it might be) belonged to the same world as Balder and the sunward-sailing cranes. And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like a heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country; and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is. And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to 'have it again' was the supreme and only important object of desire.

" ... All this time I had still not heard a note of Wagner's music, though the very shape of the printed letters of his name had become to me a magical symbol. ... But I had this in common with Wagner, that I was thinking not of concert pieces but of heroic drama. To a boy already crazed with 'the Northernness,' ... the Ride came like a thunderbolt. From that moment Wagnerian records ... became the chief drain on my pocket money.... 'Music' was one thing, 'Wagnerian music' quite another, and there was no common measure between them; it was not a new pleasure but a new kind of pleasure, if indeed 'pleasure' is the right word, rather than trouble, ecstasy, astonishment, 'a conflict of sensations without name.'"

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