Tag Archives: music

“Good King Wenceslas” Gives Me an Uncanny Feeling. Ever Happen to You?

The holidays are approaching, and Christmas carols are beginning to play, and I again experience the eerie feeling that I experience every year, when I hear the carol “Good King Wenceslas.”  Here’s the song; here are the lyrics.

For reasons I’ve never fathomed, this carol affects me with uncanny strength. Every phrase, every note stirs me. My hair stands on end, tears prickle in my eyes. Why? I have no idea. This carol is of fairly recent vintage and apparently scoffed at by academics; doesn’t matter.

Sire, the night is darker now,

And the wind blows stronger;

Fails my heart I not how,

I can go no longer….

I do often experience this kind of reaction when I encounter examples of what I call “symbols beyond words” in writing. The lyrics of “Good King Wenceslas”  also use symbols beyond words, but I don’t have this reaction to many other songs–though now that I think about it, as I write about in Happier at Home, I have the same reaction to “Raggle Taggle Gypsy.”

I thought I was the only one to experience this, so I was stuck by this passage from Carl Jung’s unforgettable memoir,  Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

 When I visited the stupas of Sanchi, where Buddha delivered his fire sermon, I was overcome by a strong emotion of the kind that frequently develops in me when I encounter a thing, person, or idea of whose significance I am still unconscious.

I love “Good King Wenceslas” so much that I included an allusion to it in the text of the book I wrote with a friend, Four to Llewelyn’s Edge.

Do you ever have this kind of reaction to something you hear, see, or look at?

I’ve listened to the song about thirty times while writing this post.

Why “Twilight” Inspired Me To Do Better With My Resolutions.

Assay: I’m a huge fan of Twilight (books and movies)—a fact about myself that continues to fascinate and puzzle me. Last night, I went to see the fourth movie in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, which inspired me to look back at a post I wrote two years ago. I really love that post, so here it is again.

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Following my resolution to Enter into other people’s interests, last week I watched the movie Twilight with my older daughter. This wasn’t a sacrifice for me; I love Stephenie Meyer’s books (oh, how I love children’s and young-adult literature), so I was curious to see the movie.

I found the movie interesting for many reasons not relevant here (other than to say I’m thinking about Jung generally, Frazier’s The Golden Bough, and George Orwell’s discussion of “good bad poetry” in his essay, “Rudyard Kipling”), but in particular, I loved the depiction of wordless, instantaneous, passionate love.

Many of my happiness-project resolutions are meant to help me be more tender, more loving, more-lighthearted, more appreciative…more romantic.

My husband and I met when we were in law school. I still remember the first time I saw him walk into the library—a shock ran through me, and I could practically feel my pupils dilate. He was wearing jeans and a rose-colored Patagonia pull-over (which I still keep in my closet). I walked over to a friend and whispered casually, “Who is that guy?”

Our law school is small, and our social circles magically started to overlap, so I met him, and my crush deepened. One important night, we sat next to each other at a dinner party. There was that afternoon when we ran into each other on the law-school staircase in front of the stained-glass windows.

But he had a girlfriend, and I had a boyfriend. Then he broke up with his girlfriend. A week later, on May 1 (I just looked up the exact date in my calendar), I broke up with my boyfriend. It happened in the morning, and I went out into the courtyard and made a general announcement of the break-up to a bunch of friends—to see what his reaction would be.

No reaction. “Hmmmm,” I thought. “Maybe I misread this situation.” Had I imagined what I thought was between us? After all, the two of us had never talked about anything of importance, certainly not about “us”; we’d never spent any time alone, only in chaperoned groups (except that once he’d asked me to breakfast at the Copper Kitchen before our Corporations class, an occasion so thrilling to me in prospect that I slept only a few hours the night before); and neither of us had ever made even the smallest romantic overture toward each other.

But that same afternoon after my break-up, he told me he was going to walk to Wawa’s (the New Haven version of QuikTrip) to get a Coke, and did I want to come? I did. We walked to Wawa’s, then back to the law school, and sat on a bench beneath some blooming magnolia trees. He said something completely incoherent, then took my hand; this was the first time we ever touched. At that moment, if he’d asked me to marry him, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, and I might well have said “Yes.” (We did get engaged several months later.)

Now, so many years later, is it the same? Yes and no. Yes, because I still love him passionately, and more deeply, because I know him so much better. No, because he pervades my entire life, so now sometimes it’s hard to see him. Married people are so intertwined, so interdependent, so symbiotic, that it’s hard to maintain that sense of wonder and excitement.

If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself. If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.

Am I tender and romantic? Am I appreciative, thoughtful, forbearing, fun-loving? Or do I march around the apartment snapping out reminders and orders? Am I quick to feel annoyed or aggrieved? When we first met, I honestly wondered whether it would ever be possible for me to read when we were sitting in a room together; I found it so hard to concentrate that I couldn’t make sense of anything more complicated than the newspaper. Now, I find it hard to tear myself away from my work and my email to hold up my end of a marital conversation.

So, inspired by the springtime, and the memories of early love brought back to me by Twilight, I’m going to redouble my usual efforts to keep my resolutions related to love. Think of small treats or courtesies. Leave things unsaid. Give proofs of love. Don’t expect praise. Take time to be silly. Fight right.

Have you found any good ways to stay tender and romantic in a long relationship?

Here, to me, is the great mystery: we’re perfectly suited to each other—but how did we fall in love before we knew each other at all? How is that possible?

* The movie also reminded me to Be Gretchen and accept my taste in music. I loved the song from the Twilight piano scene, “Bella’s Lullaby,” and instead of dismissing that pleasure, I let myself enjoy it—and in the process, came across this engaging post by the composer Carter Burwell. (To listen to the song, listen to the clip on his post, or this preview.)

It reminds me of another soundtrack song I love, The Promise, from the mind-blowing movie The Piano. The pairing of the two songs/movies is interesting, because The Piano is about wordless passion between adults, with their complications, instead of teenagers.

* Join the happiness discussion on Facebook.

Listen To Your Favorite Song.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! This month’s theme is the Five Senses, and last week’s resolution was to Tap into your senses–go outside. Did you try that resolution? Did it boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution, to tap into the power of hearing, is to Listen to your favorite upbeat song.

Listen to your favorite upbeat song.

If you’re curious about the song I mention, the Border ballad Raggle Taggle Gypsies, here are two great versions, from the Waterboys and from the Irish Descendants. (Preview: a very careful reader of Happier at Home will spot a fleeting reference to the song, which, as it happens, is also an allusion to Virginia Woolf.)

How about you? Do you find that listening to your favorite music cheers you? What song do you know will lift your spirits, every time?

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Want to feel happier? Listen to a favorite song.
The joy of rediscovering a song I love.
9 tips for dealing with a happiness emergency — in the next hour.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* My thoughtful friend Melanie Notkin, a/k/a Savvy Auntie, let me know that the Girl Scouts now have a badge for “The Science of Happiness.” Excellent!

* Join the happiness conversation on the Facebook Page. Lots of interesting discussion there.