Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Blue Boat Poem

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Since I began rowing with Whaling City Rowing last September, my thoughts have increasingly turned to the sea, even though all of my "nautical" activity so far has been in the safe confines of New Bedford Harbor and lowest reaches of the Acushnet River. 

Nonetheless, spontaneous cries of "The sea! The sea!" have become all too common at Casa Hayes-Boh, especially as I spent the spring semester teaching geographic pedagogy through the pages of In the Heart of the Sea. I have also enjoyed learning a bit more about geotechnology and about the New England coastal environment in general.


Photo: Geo-photographer Ashley Costa, New Bedford, MA
Last week, though, the aesthetic and spiritual aspects of rowing were much more on my mind. After rowing during the 6-o'clock hour Thursday evening, I posted this on social media:
Best thing about rowing this evening -- as we rowed toward the rain, a rainbow came to meet us on the water. And then a fainter arm of the rainbow came our way, from the other side. The downpour was brief, so we were dried again by the time we returned to the dock. A very nice row, indeed.
A geographer friend asked me to explain how this worked in terms of optics and weather, to which I responded:
Pamela and Paloma and I had a similar experience in a more dramatic way in Florida once, on the highway. For a rainbow to work, the rain (prism) must be in front of the viewer, with the sun behind. Usually, that means the rain is off in the distance somewhere. But we were RIGHT at the edge, so that it was sunny all around us, with the rain falling hard from the edge of the downpour. So the drops were huge and brightly lit on the water, as the rainbow came right to the fore of the boat. Lasted for about a minute that close, and then it pulled back as the rain moved away. The same thing happened from the port side, but not as dramatically. No photos -- just memories.
That is when another friend replied:
Rowing is bringing out the poet in you James.
This comment really affected me, because I think of other people as poetic, particularly my friends in Nicaragua, where statues of poets are (thankfully) far more numerous than McDonald's franchises, and where my students and I refer to the best coffee farmer as The Poet of Coffee.

I was still thinking about the rainbow and the poetry comment when I got to church on Sunday morning. The service included a baby dedication -- which always makes me nostalgic and emotional anyway -- and some wonderfully nautical music, Blue Boat Home by Peter Mayer. It does not affect me as strongly as "This Is My Song (set to FINLANDIA by Sebelius), but the lilting tune and poetic imagery are beginning to have a similar effect. 


(Video by Rev. Scott McNeill, Omaha, NE)

Our music director Denise had included this discussion of the piece in our order of service:
You will be singing Blue Boat Home in today’s service (hymn # 1064.) Some of you might think it sounds familiar, and you will be correct. Hymn tunes have names and the name of this one is HYFRYDOL, written in the 19th century by Rowland Hugh Prichard. If you come from a Catholic background, you may recognize it as Alleluia, Sing to Jesus or Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. UU’s may recognize it as Hail the Glorious Golden City (#140) or Years Are Coming (#166) or even Earth Was Given as a Garden (#207.) 
Blue Boat Home is the same tune with funky rhythms and a souped up piano accompaniment. The prelude for today is Partita on Hyfrydol, arranged by Robert Powell. A partita is a repetition of a musical theme in which it is modified or embellished. If you listen closely, you may recognize the tune which you will later sing as Blue Boat Home.
Later that day, I attended the annual Musicale -- an intimate festival of recorder music held in the home of my wife Pamela's recorder teacher, who leads two local ensembles. Denise was also a part of the afternoon music, and as I sat basking in the instrumental music, I thought about the music of that morning and then of the poetry of rowing. I remembered that Denise is a sailor, and it occurred to me that we could do kind of nautical worship service next year.

As we discussed this after the program, we quickly realized that she had been sailing just as I started rowing last week, and when she drew a map of her berth in New Bedford Harbor, we realized that not only had she and another church member gone below deck during the brief downpour described above, but that her boat had been right under the rainbow my fellow rowers and I saw. I do not believe in portends or omens, but this multiple coincidence brings to mind the name of my rowing group: Shiver Me Timbers!

Incidentally, I am not the only UU blogger to have been affected by Peter Mayer's poetry. Rick Brown has written his own homage -- with the full lyrics and some related videos about water -- on Progressive Blogic.

Lagniappe: Hyfrydol
(Added June 9, 2013)


The wonders of the Internet include the fact that we can use modern technologies to reach out and touch our nostalgia in so many ways. As I was writing this article last week, I decided finally to act on my long-standing intention of purchasing a hymnal of the kind I used as a kid in Oak Dale Baptist Church. In moments, a used copy of the 1956 Baptist Hymnal from Convention Press was on its way. Oddly, it was easier to find than the 1970s-era version that we used more often; both were in our pews so that we would not miss any of the old standards.

The main reason I have been wanting one of these is that we often sing something in our church whose tune is familiar, but whose connection to an old hymn I cannot quite remember. In the case of Hyfrydol,  the connection is tenuous. The tune is used in Hymn 9, "Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, Adore Him," but this is not one of the standards I remember.

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