Last Sunday I performed in a choir for the first time in a decade. We sang songs celebrating the solstice but from more of a humanist than pagan perspective.
Sometimes I feel like my voice doesn’t matter or isn’t good (both the actual resonance of my voice box and my verbal pattern). Growing up I didn’t feel like I sang well. I was a terrible singer but loved to sing, so my mom had me take voice lessons for a while. It helped. I have a difficult time singing my part, though. I have to know my part or be able to see the sheet music. Singing a cappella in a four to six part ensemble was difficult for me, especially since I haven’t been in a choir for so long. Hearing all the other voices made me doubt my notes at times.
After many, many hours of listening to my part recorded, I was able to sing with the group. I was told we sounded good. One can hope.
It made me think about diversity, though. I’m a high soprano. Most of the people in the choir were altos or basses. There were very few sopranos and tenors. Without all the parts, the sound would not have been as rich.
I’m going to share with you several poems that I adore about light, darkness, and the solstice.
“Yalda” by Passim
A shadow casts across a closing sky
where crowds will meet to bid the night good-bye.
With hushed excitement, waiting now respite;
in silence but for night hawks eerie cry.
This winter solstice fires will burn all night,
with sparks cascading; messages in flight.
Ensuring then, defeat of Ahriman
with prayers to Mithra, bringing morning light.
I found this poem years ago for another celebration of the solstice. This poem honors the Persian holiday Shab-e Yalda, which though celebrated today predates Islam. Click here for the rest of the poem and the author’s notes about the holiday.
“You darkness, that I come from” by Rilke
Rilke is by far not my favorite poet, but this is one of those poems that has stuck to my heart.
You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything;
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!—
powers and people—
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.
So often we view things in this dichotomy that equates darkness to evil. Without darkness we cannot see the starlight. Sleep in darkness is restorative, and I believe in Norse myths, the Yggdrasil (world tree) was restored at night after the dragon, Nidhogg, would gnaw on the world tree all day. I can’t find anything readily available online to confirm this, but in a mythology class I took in college I recall this being covered as an example of how symbolism like water and the moon and the sun doesn’t necessarily have universal meaning.
“In Darkness Let Me Dwell” by Dowland
Sting sang this for “The Labyrinth” soundtrack but it was written in 1610.
These melancholic words have that elegant hyperbaton so beloved in Elizabethan England. The song is delicate, thoughtful, and lilting. The melody is composed in such a way that it is juxtaposed against the harmony without being repeated by an instrument making it, I would imagine, difficult to sing but almost floating.
It’s a very sad song, but it’s so beautiful.
These are the words:
In darkness let me dwell,
The ground shall Sorrow be;
The roof Despair to bar
All cheerful light from me,
The walls of marble black
That moisten’d still shall weep;
My music hellish jarring sounds
To banish friendly sleep.
Thus wedded to my woes
And bedded to my tomb,
O let me living die,
Till death do come.
So those are my thoughts very late this solstice night.
May you sleep peacefully knowing the days shall grow longer though the coldest part of winter lies ahead.