Christopher Smart’s “A Song to David”

AG: Well, a sample of such a poem is – (a long poem), something that takes a long time to write – by Christopher Smart, now.  There’s one poem that is not in our anthologies called “A Song to David”

Student: David?

AG: “A Song to David”, which you can find also in the anthology by W.H.Auden, Poets of the English Language (which we do have it in our library). And also there’s a great Smart anthology, a book of Smart’s,  in the library, if you want to look up Smart , there’s this one, this edition, a great edition, the… which also has his Sapphics – edited with an Introduction by Robert Brittain, Princeton, 1950 a really good long biographical essay, photographs, holograph manuscripts, music for some of his psalms, and the complete text of this.. the.. what is it the Hymn? –  “A Song to David”, which I won’t read all of. However, it does have this tremendous gyrating ascension, a repetitious stanza-form of repeating one or two words which builds and builds and builds and builds until he comes! –  a little bit like Hart Crane’s “Bridge”, or Shelley’s “Adonais” or “Ode To The West Wind” (except this is in a very closed form).  Something not far from.. I think inspired by Greek and Latin verses, and a little bit like a Horation ode, or even something that grew out of the Sapphic. And it’s called “A Song to David” in the Auden anthology (which, incidentally also has long long sections, long, good sections from “Rejoice in the Lamb”. It occupies page five-six-seven to page five-eight-four and I’m going to read from five-seven-seven, from stanzas on Adoration..  and he uses..  he goes through this long poem using – “Of fishes, “Of gems”, “Of beasts” , Of man”, “the world”, “trees, plants and flowers”, “angels”. One set of stanzas begins, “Great, valiant, pious, good, and clean/ Sublime, contemplative, serene,/ Strong, constant, pleasant, wise!”…  Each stanza begins with an adjective, and then he takes it out.

This is a series that begins,  “For Adoration all the ranks/ Of Angels yield eternal thanks,/ And David in the midst” – (David, the harper, you remember from the Bible) -“With God’s good poor, which, last and least/In man’s esteem, Thou to Thy feast,/ O Blessed bridegroom bidst”.  So, “For Adoration all the ranks/ Of Angels yield eternal thanks”,  da-da da-da da-da da-da da-da – “and David in their midst” – “With God’s good poor, which, last and least/In man’s esteem, Thou to Thy feast,/ O Blessed bridegroom bidst” – So it’s  ” Adoration all the ranks”, ” angels yield eternal thanks” – so it’s tetrameter – “and David in their midst” – two lines of tetrameter rhymes, one line of trimeter, two more lines of tetrameter, one more line of trimeter – and the rhyming. So this is a series. So I’ll just read it:

[Beginning at approximately thirty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-two minutes in, Allen reads from Christopher Smart’s “A Song to David“]

“For Adoration seasons change/ and order, truth, and beauty range, / Adjust, attract, and fill/The grass the polyanthus checks/And polished porphyry reflects”……..”Glorious, – more glorious, – is the crown/Of Him that brought salvation down,/By meekness called Thy Son;/ Thou that stupendous truth believed; – /And now the matchless deed’s. achieved,/Determined, Dared, and Done.”

Isn’t that something?  That’s really a cadenza! And that’s just the end of the poem. The whole thing begins with as much, almost as much, high energy  – and just goes on.. Each stanza – “Great..”  (as I was saying),  “Great..” Valiant..”, “Good and glorious..”

Student: How long is it?

AG: It’s not that long page give-six-seven to five-eight-three.  So it’s fifteen pages. It’s in.. You’ll find a copy in the library in.. here…in this book..  Well that’s really amazing, the guy could do that kind of stanza-form and he also did the great Hebraic call-and-response “Jubilate Agno”, that we read from last time. So he’s a major poet, as far as sound

Student:  And what he wrote about.

AG: And what he wrote about. Very powerful. I mean, the emotional thing is totally, a hundred percent, there (and) The breath is amazing,  So that was Smart.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, , beginning at approximately twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in] 

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