(Time for something a little different. This is the first post of several which will explore the works of John Milton, the great Renaissance, Stuart-era, English poet. These short responses were assigned responses as part of a class I am taking this semester; because this is only a 200-level course, these are largely informal responses. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them and the bout of difference that they bring to our medieval adventure.)
Ring out ye Crystal spheres.
Once bless our human ears,
(If ye have power to touch our senses so)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time;
And let the Bass of Heav’n’s deep organ blow,
And with your ninefold harmony
Make a full consort of th’Angelic symphony (L 125-35 “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”).
From an explanatory note, the reader learns something interesting about this passage, namely, that it is inspired by Virgil and Plato’s notion of the “Great Year” as well as “the Pythagorean tradition that the music of the spheres would be audible to sinless men” (46). How fascinating!
As a so-called “Golden Age”, or, Utopia, I have never before heard of a situation in which music is so used; it is religious, and so Salvation-oriented, but also Utopian in that only the sinless men can hear the sounds of the divine spheres which move around the universe. In a concrete way, then, it is also mathematical in that the spheres have an precise measurement and purpose if they are to create noise which only the faithful can hear; their crafter, in other words, needed to use divine tools but have them human, non-divine, oriented. (I will wait for the paper on divine mathematics, though I will not hold my breath!)
“Ring out” (line 125) connotes a desire to see this salvation enacted, of course, but line 127 quickly limits this desire as confining it to only the true believers. So we have an intriguing mix of Christian Utopianism alongside dystopianism (since I hardly feel that such a Salvation is hardly worth noting for anyone who cannot hear the music).
Such is further reinforced when “move in melodious time” (line 129) arrives, which is the precursor to bass of heaven which summons the angelic symphony. Though of such is very poetically endearing, it is also tightly a non-Christian nightmare, since, after all, a non-Christian cannot move in this melodious time, has no role in the great bass of heaven, or make any kind of consort with angels, let alone a symphony.
I wish I knew some more about this “Great Year” and how it is “cyclical” (46). I do feel that there is a certain sort of repetition at work in this passage with references to sound—“ring”, “chime” melodious”, “blow”, “and symphony”. Obviously, that would connect to the cyclical nature of what this great year entails; accordingly, if I knew more, I could dig a bit deeper into how the non-Platonic elements interact with these Platonic-oriented minutia. But, since I do not know what this idea entails, I will have to, for now, leave it be and any connection is has to the Utopia-Dystopia divide.