So said Saint Augustine: "Singing is what the lover does." That most brilliant mind understood, in his humility, that there are things which leave rationality huffing and puffing behind, and one of them is love. So potent is the high-heartedness of love that it makes the lover greater even as he abandons himself to delight in the good of the beloved. Speech halts and stutters then, and the best we can do is to turn ourselves into musical instruments, expressing in ringing melody what we can hardly say, sometimes what we can hardly conceive; what dwells, as it were, in a world of more dimensions than the world of the bare proposition. I can say, "Jesus is my king, and the king of the universe," but when I sing, "Christ Jesus, victor! Christ Jesus, ruler! Christ Jesus, Lord and Redeemer!" I revel in his lordship, with all my being. I present that lordship not simply to my reason, to analyze, but to my whole being, to enjoy; and my being in turn is taken up into that lordship. It is an act of love.
I've been thinking about this mystery of singing lately, as I emerge from a kind of personal salt flat, below sea level. One of the blessings the Lord has placed in my path is a terrific book on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, called World as Word, by Bernadette Waterman Ward, a professor at the University of Dallas. It was my great good fortune to meet her and her husband (a convert from atheism) and their three lovely daughters a few months ago, and all I can say is that she and her family live the love that she sees as singing all through Hopkins' work. The book is worth reading if only to watch as Professor Ward, with the calm of a woman taking apart the seams of an ineptly sewn coat, leaves such literary-theoretical poobahs as Jonathan Culler and J. Hillis Miller in a tattered mess on the floor. For such people, song is a terrible problem, because their theoretical presuppositions insist upon there being Nothing to sing about, and No One to sing to. They are unnervingly attracted to Hopkins' poetry, but they must misunderstand it, because -- in the face of Hopkins' deftly articulated natural theology, not to mention his incarnational Christian faith -- they cannot admit that the One God could be made manifest to man by means of his wildly various creation. Culler cannot even admit the existence of love without "agression," "transference," and "fetishism." Such a thing, he says, could hardly be called love at all.
Yet Hopkins is nothing but a wordsmith without the song of love that sees or gleans Christ in "the features of men's faces," in the "piece-bright paling" of the Milky Way, in "the silk-sack clouds" of an autumn afternoon. It is a love that the would-be rationalist, the irrational fanatic of reason, can understand about as well as a color-blind person can understand the tumultuous riot of water in the works of J. M. W. Turner, or as well as the safe smug literateur can understand the doggerel that a soldier sends home to his young bride, all the lovelier poetry for being doggerel. Everything in the world is a site for vision, for opening one's mind and heart and soul to the "inscape" of bluebells or muddy ruts drying out or the wash of blossoms falling in the spring -- inscapes, that is, shaped-within things by the Shaper, waiting for the beholder to behold them. For "there lives the dearest freshness deep down things," and that means far more than that things can open to us the wondrous formalitates of their beings. It means, against all deconstructionists, and against the gaming of the language philosophers of our day, that there really are things in the world, things that appeal to our minds to name them and delight in them and discover their hidden beauties:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Selves, goes itself, "myself" it speaks and spells,
Saying, "What I do is me, for that I came."
Reason -- the genuine article, not the willed blindness of the rationalist -- overleaps itself into love, as is right and reasonable for it to do. Reason stands trembling at the threshold of song. What, I've asked myself, does the rationalist, or his irrationalist postmodern spawn, sing about? If you do not believe in the love that moves the sun and the other stars -- if, in fact, you have contracted love to egoism or even to animal desire -- to whom do you sing? What kind of human life is it, when you cannot remember the last time you felt a joy that could only be expressed in the exuberance of song?