Monday, August 8, 2022

Now, O now, in this brown land

Last night I happened to listen to this haunting version of the Blue Öyster Cult classic "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," set to an instrumental track by P!nk.

The original version of this song is famously featured in the 2000 Christopher Walken "More Cowbell" sketch, but this mashup version has no cowbell at all. This, in the context of recent Wizard of Oz syncs, made me think, "Cowbell out of order. Please knock." But it's not like any "knocking" has been added to replace the cowbell, so I dismissed the thought.

The line "Seasons don't fear the Reaper" always makes me think of some lines from James Joyce, one of the poems from Chamber Music: "The leaves -- they do not sigh at all / When the year takes them in the fall." In fact, I guess I've always sort of assumed the song was inspired by that poem, directly or indirectly. Today, I looked up the whole poem and was surprised to find that it features knocking!

Now, O now, in this brown land
Where Love did so sweet music make
We two shall wander, hand in hand,
Forbearing for old friendship’ sake,
Nor grieve because our love was gay
Which now is ended in this way.

A rogue in red and yellow dress
Is knocking, knocking at the tree;
And all around our loneliness
The wind is whistling merrily.
The leaves -- they do not sigh at all
When the year takes them in the fall.

Now, O now, we hear no more
The villanelle and roundelay!
Yet will we kiss, sweetheart, before
We take sad leave at close of day.
Grieve not, sweetheart, for anything --
The year, the year is gathering.

A few days ago I had the thought that a tree could be the equivalent of the Green Door, but I can no longer retrace the train of thought that led me there. All that comes to mind now (though it was not my original thought) is Yggdrasil, the tree that is the "gate" between the worlds. Today I saw a roadkilled squirrel on the road and thought, "Ah, poor Ratatoskr!"

Another poem from Chamber Music also came to mind.

Gentle lady, do not sing
Sad songs about the end of love;
Lay aside sadness and sing
How love that passes is enough.

Sing about the long deep sleep
Of lovers that are dead, and how
In the grave all love shall sleep:
Love is aweary now.

The Reaper's sickle, and the end of love, then made me think of Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

Joyce's embrace of the Reaper comes from a deep intuition which he himself did not understand and thus explained wrongly. The reason for not fearing the Reaper is not that "Love that passes is enough" -- how could it be? -- but that death and resurrection are the gateway to the realm of that which does not pass, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. "Romeo and Juliet / Are together in eternity."

Human love, as experienced in mortality, is as mortal as every other human thing. It alters, it changes, it bends with the remover to remove. But resurrection is coming, and the restoration of all things. "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life," wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, "it will rise with us in the resurrection" (D&C 130:18). He did not say that we will keep it, but that it will rise in resurrection -- for we forget so very much of what we learn, and many of us end mortality in a state of dementia. What the Prophet said of intelligence is true also of love. Whatever broken, imperfect, changeable principle of love we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. "For all things must fail -- but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever" (Moro. 7:46-47).

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-44). 

And a little wink from the synchronicity fairies: I had known Blue Öyster Cult only for "The Reaper," but Wikipedia informs me that they are best known for three singles, the other two being "Burnin' for You" and -- "Godzilla."


ben said...

"The reason for not fearing the Reaper is not that "Love that passes is enough" -- how could it be? -- but that death and resurrection are the gateway to the realm of that which does not pass"

Brought this to mind

No Longer Reading said...

Debbie, you had previously written about the red heifer and a super shemitah year. You may find this article interesting, which deals with similar things (

There's also a similar concept among some Christian thinkers, such as Augustine, for instance, which also relates periods of time on the earth to days of the week (

And then Rudolf Steiner also has his seven eras of Earth history, perhaps inspired by these ideas.

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