Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day Like no Other

"In the time of your life, live - so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world."

From the prologue to The Time of Your Life, a play by William Saroyan which celebrates Life with a capital "L" and its possibilities. I find this prologue very moving, and more so today, when we remember the 10th anniversary of those dreadful events of 9-11, and how the world, for so many, was changed forever.

It was earlier this summer that I saw a performance of this play, in the remount of the Soulpepper production at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. The playbill featured an eloquent artist's note by actor Stuart Hughes (Kit Carson in the play) and the reprint of the prologue to the script, by Saroyan. I quoted from it above. Here's another:

"In the time of your life, live - so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it."

In grievous times the artist finds solace from the world in his art, as do those observers that are lucky enough to live where art is freely and widely expressed. There is an example of the seeking of that solace in Mahler's incomparable Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In late September 2001, the Canadian Opera Company had the opening night of its season. Before the performance started, the great Canadian baritone Russell Braun stepped before the curtain and sung this haunting song, accompanied by the company's orchestra, in a tribute to those who had died on that dreadful day. Here's it's sung by José van Dam.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
(Words by Friedrich Rückert, Music by Gustav Mahler)

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.

Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel,
Und ruh' in einem stillen Gebiet!
Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!

English translation by Emily Ezust:

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world's tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!

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