Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/28/2012

A Meditation on the Fourth Day of Christmas

Steuart Goodwin, Opus 1 (in my living room)

Steuart Goodwin, Opus 1 (in my living room)

(Please note the link below.)
Some time ago I began rereading one of my favorite novels (it is a favorite of any epileptic who can concentrate long enough to get through it—no mean feat), The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have read it twice long ago, and I have started rereading it perhaps a dozen times in the last couple of years.

I know the story, and I want to savor every moment of Prince Myshkin’s search for reality. My epilepsy is not the full grand mal seizure type of his, but I do understand completely his confusion—but at the same time his ability to penetrate to the core of what’s going on around him. Unlike the Prince, I have little ability to do the latter although it has happened to me on a few extremely rare occasions in my life. My delusion is that, because that has happened to me a few times without my doing anything to bring it about, I must have some special ability to penetrate to reality when I want to do so. That is not true. That is a pipe dream.

I am now beginning the process of plowing through The Idiot again. It is an almost fearsome prospect. How on earth did those Russians write those tomes? I have the new translation by David McDuff and can hardly wait to get into it.

In the process of finding and ordering the book, I checked out some articles in academic journals (when will I ever learn that’s not necessary?). I found two articles of great interest, the first is

Stepanian, Karen. “Don Quixote And Prince Myshkin In Search Of Reality.” Russian Studies In Literature 47.3 (2011): 25-72.

All I can say about it is that, as soon as I finish rereading The Idiot, I obviously have to reread Don Quixote.

The second article is more immediate.

Allen, Brooke. “Reading: Our Past and Present Selves.” Hudson Review 64.4 (2012): 712-716.

I’m not sure why I thought I needed help in figuring out how to reread a great novel, but I looked it up anyway when it popped up on my search for The Idiot. One passage caught my attention—a passage that really has nothing to do with the main argument of the article OR with The Idiot or Don Quixote. But it says a great deal about what I’m up to right now. I’ll quote it wholesale and then explain.

To think about my own rereading has encouraged a sense of humility, especially when it comes to questions of value. I set out with the conviction that I could dependably discriminate value, and with the associated conviction that it is important to do so. Although I still hold that the question of value deserves pondering in relation to everything read, I’m no longer sure that such reflection produces solid results in any individual instance. (Spacks, Patricia Meyer. On Rereading. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.) My Christmas decor

As I get older (and older and older), my ideas of “values” are changing, it seems to me, every day. (Jump to my sometime career as a musician.) Substitute for “rereading” in the Spacks paragraph the word re-playing (as at the organ). Then read third sentence, “Although I still hold that the question of value deserves pondering in relation to everything I PLAY ON THE ORGAN, I’m no longer sure that such reflection produces solid results in any individual instance.”

It’s something of a mystery to me that, at the same time I am drawn to reading a massive complicated novel (or is it complicated?), I am drawn to simpler and simpler music. Of course, it may be that playing large complicated works is simply too much for my tired old hands. But I don’t think so.

This is not profound. It’s probably not even interesting. However, I like my music simple these days. Or if not simple, at least obvious. I don’t want to work at performing a giant structure for your intellectual benefit, and I don’t want to work at intricacies for my own.

So here on the Fourth Day of Christmas, 2012, I offer for your listening and mine two short, sweet, simple carols that are (thank God) not as well-known as the idiotic “Carol of the Bells” or “Little Drummer Boy.” Or even “Silent Night.” Short, sweet, and lovely. That’s all the “value” I can muster at the moment.

Cold December flies away
There is no known author for this Christmas carol.
This tune is a Catalonian carol.
The words were translated by Howard Hawhee in 1978.

Cold December flies away at the rose red splendor.
April’s crowning glory breaks while the whole world wonders
At the holy unseen power of the tree which bears the flower.
On the blessed tree blooms the saddest flower, On the tree
blooms the rose here in love’s own garden, full and strong in glory.

In the hopeless time of sin shadows deep had fallen.
All the world lay under death, eyes were closed in sleeping.
But when all seemed lost in night, came the sun whose golden light
Unending joy, brings the endless joy of our hope,
Highest hope of our hope’s bright dawning, Son beloved of heaven.

Now the bud has come to bloom and the world awakens.
In the lily’s purest flower dwells a wondrous fragrance.
And it spreads to all the earth from the moment of its birth;
And its beauty lives. In the flower it lives, in the flower and it spreads
In its heavenly brightness, sweet perfume delightful.

The Huron Carol (‘Twas In The Moon of Winter Time)
Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)
This is a traditional French carol melody with words written for the Huron Native Americans by a French missionary in the 17th century.

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.


  1. […] I play the carols simply, no altered harmonies, nothing fancy. I play them as if you were singing, the number of times through (probably not very interesting) the same as the number of stanzas of each carol (words printed in order below). My playing is sentimental, personal: I know it. […]


  2. […] Remarkably, the tune to which this hymn is set is the one familiar to most Christians as the Good Friday hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” There, smack-dab in the middle of the music for the Lutheran service on Christmas Day. […]


  3. […] believe that we live in our bodies and do everything in our power to embrace their physicality. Their “reality” is the way we relate to and understand the world (the universe).  In fact, we must be able to see (or perceive in some way) the world in order to […]


  4. […] suppose I was hoping the students would grapple with great existential (or at least postmodern) questions of reality and truth and life and death—those questions professors always imagine they can inspire students to think about. The grotesque […]


  5. […] I posted an odd bit of writing, the kind of writing I do when I have to write (obsession, neurological kink?) and cannot organize my thinking. Hypergraphia? Dunno. Some strange lack of control over my mind. […]


  6. These are great carols. I really like the second one as it adapts to the audience. I too have found that as I grow older, my values change. I find this reassuring as it proves to me I am open to new things and not a stoggy (sp?) old cuss, stuck in my ways.



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