Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What is Man?

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
 the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
 and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
 and dost crown him with glory and honor.

  – Psalm 8:3-5

The lyrics of this song are based on a poem titled "What is Man?" by Welsh poet Waldo Williams. I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, quote from this poem during his speech at the Assisi gathering for world peace on October 27:
What is it to be alive? To dwell in a great hall
Between narrow walls.
What is it to recognize? To find a single root
Beneath all the branches.

What is it to have faith? To stay still at the hearth
Until we are ready to receive our guest.
What is it to forgive? To find a way through the thorns
To stand alongside our old enemy.
When I went looking for the rest of the poem, I quickly learned that the original was in Welsh not English. So I came across various translations (here and here) of the words. I ended up modifying Waldo Williams' original poem while trying to stay true to his meaning. Ultimately, I didn't use the whole poem. This is one translation of the other verses that I used.
What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What's work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.
[...]
What's the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.
Then as I was working on the song, I was reminded of Psalm 8:3-5 and incorporated those words into the lyrics as well.

I originally was attracted to this poem by the opening lines, "What is it to be alive? To dwell in a great hall between narrow walls." It took me a bit of contemplating to reach an understanding of this. To me this means that we are confined to see only a small part of God's infinite creation. We live in the physical world, which can lead us to believe that this is all there is to His creation. We occupy human bodies and yet there is a sense that there is so much more to our existence.




What is Man?
© Michael of PublicVigil 2011

What is it to be alive? To dwell in a great hall
Between narrow walls.
What is it to realize? To find a single root
Beneath all the branches.

What is it to believe? Guarding the faith
Until acceptance comes.
What is it to forgive? Fighting through thorns
To comfort my enemy.

Where’s the magic in a song? It’s in the first breath
Of creation.
And why must we sweat and toil? To create a symphony
From the forests and the fields.

What's the world to the strong?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.

When I look up to the heavens
I see the work of your hands.
The moon and countless stars
Which you alone created.

What is man that you are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you should care for him?
Yet you made him little less than yourself,
And you crowned him with glory.

Where’s the magic in a song? It’s in the first breath
Of creation.
And why must we sweat and toil? To create a symphony
From the forests and the fields.

What's the world to the strong?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.

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