Do not love the world or the things in the world…. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the work of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
MY NAME is John Fuller. I am nine and twenty years of age, born in the year of our Lord 1370, the son of a learned musician and the youngest of twelve children—though the Lord in his wisdom was pleased to take five brothers and two sisters back to the fold. After a grave accident, I no longer possess the use of my hands. Any inaccuracies in this document are not the fault of the scribe, who enjoys a high reputation, but of my own mind. My pain is not inconsiderable. However, I will continue frankly, in as orderly a fashion as I am able, so that these words may accompany my confession to the honorable vicar of Saint Stephens.
My story begins as God knit me in the womb. There my knees pressed in to form the sockets of my eyes as they do in all men. However, my left knee—the cap of which has a sharp embossment—pressed upon the iris, pushing it to one side. While I am able to see clearly, it appears to others that the eye looks away from the place I have trained it. God be praised for this deformity, for it kept me close to him for the better part of my life.
My first memories are of two sounds—one ugly and one beautiful. As a child I lived in Oxfordshire in the northern Midlands. An old church stood in the center of the village, and in its center demesne what I thought must be everything the world could possibly contain: a bakehouse, granary, pigsty, dairy, an assortment of dovecotes, and a malting house. Once I recall walking on the outskirts of this enclosure with my father when there came an ugly noise, dry and papery, as menacing as a snake’s warning. My father quickly lifted me to his shoulders and ran toward our cottage. Looking back I saw a man whose skin bubbled up like a dark pudding—a leper, I later learned, required to wear a rattle to warn us of his coming. In one moment his eye caught mine from high upon my father’s shoulders, and the look he gave me was so sinister that I have not forgot it. It seemed to say that only my father’s body separated us, that in its absence the leper and I were one.
Our cottage was built at the edge of the village, along the banks of a tiny stream. One hot afternoon I awoke from a nap transfixed by the highest, sweetest sound I had ever heard. It was as if I could see, in my mind’s eye, this sweet sound rapidly tracing the petals of a flower before plummeting down its stem. I learned later from my father that one capacity of the human voice had been described in such a way by Jerome of Moravia—as a vocal flowering. I went to the window. There my mother joined me, pointing to a nest in the bank-willow tree.
“That nest,” I asked, “did you make it?” For my mother was skilled in weaving, and in fashioning all kinds of things.
“Of course not,” she scolded me. “It is mother bird who builds it.”
“How can she make it so?”
“God gave her the knowledge,” she said. “Nothing perfect comes but it comes from God.”
Then from somewhere in the tree the beautiful thick chirp came again, a trill and a sweet clucking. How I wanted to see the bird! But as much as I strained and leaned, she did not appear.
“How does she learn this song?” I asked.
“God puts the song in her breast,” said my mother.
“And how can it be so sweet?”
“Tiresome boy,” she smiled, “this also comes from God.”
“And my eye?”
Her mouth twisted in irritation, and she dropped my hand. “From God,” she muttered. “The good and the bad are from God….”
And perhaps I remember this day so clearly because, soon after, it pleased divine providence to take my mother to the Lord, may he be praised for all things. This was in the year of our Lord 1376, in the month of June.
After my mother’s death my father accepted a position as an organist in the town of Bishop’s Lynn, in Norfolk. He explained to us that an organ was a wonderous and expensive piece of equipment, and only a church of good means could acquire one. We children admired our father greatly, and as the years passed he taught us whatever he knew of music and instruments.
At two and twenty I married a woman named Katherine, nine years my elder and the daughter of a well-to-do burgher. Her father accepted my appearance. Though thine eye may wander, he jested, see that thy heart does not. I assured him that because of my appearance, I was a devout man and had never been burdened with lust or pride. Katherine’s inheritance was more than I might have hoped for, and we did not want for money. We had a cook, a maid, and a nurse; and Katherine was wise in shopping, never fooled by watered wine or the old fish sold at market, rubbed with pig’s blood to make it look fresh. We enjoyed our supper over pleasant conversation, and in the evenings I would play the gittern or the psaltery, for my father had given me a small collection of instruments and I loved nothing more than music.
Katherine herself could not keep a pitch, and sometimes when I hummed a little tune without thinking, she might ask me to stop. But no wife is without such cavils, and she was gay in demeanor then, as middling comely as befit a woman of her years, and forthcoming in wifely duties. I was pleasantly surprised in my enjoyment of these, and called myself happy in life.
In the second year Katherine was with child, and when her time came she labored through the night. Never in my life had I heard such lamentation, and I wondered how the throat could bear such pressure unscathed. The midwife came out for the rose oil and sat on the stool beside me, her head in her hands, and when hours later she fetched some vinegar and sugar, she took bits of lambswool and tucked them in her ears before entering the birth room again. When finally the dawn came, I heard a small cry, but most of an hour passed before finally the midwife brought the child down the stairs to me. I was happy, although it was a girl. And as I held the babe, she brought another—twin girls.
I knew Katherine to be a good and honest woman, so I could not believe that twins must be sired by two fathers. But of course many did believe it. When the days of her purification were completed, Katherine was received, according to Leviticus, back into the church, made clean to make bread or prepare food. But on the way home that day some women tore the veil and wimple from her head so that she was made to walk home as bareheaded as a harlot. In the following week our neighbors spun a yellow cross to mark her garment and left it at our door, and spat at her as she went to market, and spat upon her babes. My old father the organist would no longer speak with her, and my sisters and brothers would no longer look upon her.
Was it out of sadness that Katherine refused me my marital rights, even as a year passed? I will never know. We did have a common devotion for the sweet creatures she had borne. We employed a nurse whose breasts were large enough for two, yet not large enough to flatten the children’s noses, and we took joy as these two began to smile and babble and their curls were growing long. For my part, I felt a relief and pride at their smooth kneecaps and beautiful straight eyes. For though the woman carries the seed of the child, they may have shared my deformity. Together we looked and wondered at them as one wonders at the heavens and all the beauties of nature. They were so entirely alike that only a few tiny spackles on the nose could distinguish elder from younger.
But divine providence was pleased to take the life of our dear twins two days apart from each other, the first on the fifth of June at the hour of terce, in the year of our Lord 1393. Then I too was taken sick, and woke from my fever one morning to find that the second twin had been gathered back to the Lord on the seventh of June at 5 o’clock, in the year of our Lord 1393. For this may the Lord be thanked and praised, for every devout man knows the great mercy he shows us in taking a child out of the world. Yet had they stayed with us—had even one stayed—I believe I would not have this story to tell.
Katherine was a good woman, and, until this time, perfectly ordinary. But she began to weep all the day long and into the night, and no comfort I offered was of help to her. One winter’s day I could not find my wife and, looking out the window, saw her sitting in the snow with her skirt spread round her. She wore no coat. I sent the nurse, who hovered over Katherine as she rocked back and forth on her heels.
“Sir, no coaxing could get her inside,” she told me. “She says she is warm inside the body, and God tells her not to fear illness.”
Then she leaned in and whispered, “She wears no knickers under the skirt.”
Shortly after this incident, it pleased the Lord to take to paradise my father the organist, and for this may he be praised in his wisdom. I was given the tutelage of some of my father’s students who lived across the canal in the old city where there were large stone dwellings of Roman style. I found these houses impressive, for our own was timber, post and beam, and so close to its rotting neighbor that the two dwellings leaned on each other at the top like a pair of boureés.
My pupils were young girls who lived in the old quarter, from wealthy families in which the boys studied chess and hawking and the girls embroidery and singing. Most of them did not sing well, yet the lessons were pleasant for me, a diversion from our home and its growing strangeness.
Katherine no longer did the shopping. Together we only went out to church, and there she would cry. The cries began softly, and then grew to sobs, and she fell forward to the pew in front of us, and then into the aisle writhing and groaning with a sound as great as the one she had poured forth in labor, so that it was only prudent to gather her and take her from the sanctuary. Then she smiled fiercely, her eyes gleaming in ecstasy.
“It is the Lord who makes me,” she told me, later. “He speaks to me. And when I fall to the ground I cannot stop myself; it is because I hear the most beautiful music, that seems to come from heaven itself.”
In truth I did not know if I could believe it. For we know of those who contract dancing fevers in the rainy season, when, for example, in Saint Vitus’s dance, one town makes its way to another in a state of shivering frenzy. It seemed to be a madness of that sort. Indeed, Albertus Magnus has written that women who do not receive their husbands can become full of poisonous blood and it is better for them to expel the matter, but my wife dismissed this opinion when it was offered.
Still, she did seek the counsel of authorities, including William Southfield of the Carmelites, and Dame Julian, the anchoress, in her little cell. These agreed that God was speaking to Katherine through her fits. And so my wife had a new path to follow, this time as a woman of faith. And in time she was no longer shunned on the street. She had earned respect and her demeanor improved.
But though Saint Augustine tells us we might atone for any sin between married people by acts of Christian charity, our relations did not resume. At night we got in bed as usual, well-bedded in white sheets and nightcap. We took off our nightclothes under the covers. But when I turned to Katherine, she would feign sickness, or scratch herself.
“I have worms!” she would say, slapping my hand away.
“No,” I assured her. “You have not scratched all day.”
“They come out at night!”
“Let me see…” and smiling I would reach out to her nakedness.
But she thrashed and spun away from me.
During this time I visited for the first time a student of my late father’s who had recently recovered from illness. Her maid showed me to where she lay on the daybed still in a dressing gown of yellow silk. She looked to be sixteen, as dark haired as a Jewess, with large brown eyes and rather dark skin. I did not think of her as lovely. I suppose that those who were said to be beautiful had very white skin and light hair, so it did not occur to me to define the girl in this manner. Then, too, this dark girl covered her mouth in the manner of those with rotten teeth who have been trained not to offend others. So I sometimes covered my own sinister eye with my hand, or turned my face away, to avoid the onlooker’s gaze.
“I am Olivia,” she said meekly. “I am happy to meet you, and I know your father is with the Lord.”
I thanked her, and asked her if she felt well enough to stand, for standing is the best way to sing. She nodded and, with some effort, hoisted herself up by the table stand.
“Let us begin with a recitation,” I said, “for in this way I shall know what I need to teach you.”
I do not remember much of the first song she sang, or even, exactly, my own reaction to it. My surprise was first that she sang a worldly song, popular in the courts of great men, and sung by troubadours. It made no mention of God.
But soon I had forgotten the song itself and marked the contrast between this girl and my typical student, who strained so on high registers, who, if she hit the note, often pushed into it like a German, or broke the tone in the manner of the French. Olivia’s voice lifted to each note directly, holding on the tone without excess of ornament or vibration—the sweet sound of a child. In its simplicity there was something wondrous about it, and I wanted to laugh and delight in it, rather than find something to teach her. Yet her nurse sat embroidering on the settle, and she would report to Olivia’s father. I had to begin with a suggestion, and so it came to me what I might add. For Isodore of Seville told us the voice should be “high, clear, and sweet” and indeed something was not entirely clear.
I asked, “You are aware of the epiglottis?”
Olivia shook her head. I asked the nurse to fetch ink and paper, and drew a small sketch of this leaf shaped part. “If the tongue, perhaps swollen from sickness, is sliding backward, it may be clouding the tone of what my father—working, as you know, on the organ as he did, and noticing its similarity with the human capacity for two kinds of sound—might call the lower register.”
The nurse looked up attentively from her embroidery, while the student studied my sketch with a worried expression. I suppose that I wanted to lighten this expression, though I don’t remember thinking so, only that my throat ached, as it did in the moment when as a child, I raced to the window to find that the bird was not there.
“In spite of this,” I told her, “your voice at times comes close to a moment of perfection—what Jerome has called la pulchra nota. Let us begin to listen for it. Mostly it appears with no strain whatsoever. But be attentive, for when such a note comes, if you know it, you may ever after use its sound to guide you.” Then I smiled, for her brows were still knit in a childlike concern.
“Do not worry,” I said gaily. “It may be only a short while.”
And at this she smiled back at me quite fully and naturally. “Oh!” she said. “Do you think so?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m sure of it.”
That I should not have said, I thought later. I myself had never reached such a note in singing. Why should I praise so strongly? Was there another reason to do so? In fact I went over the entire lesson in my mind for some reason, retracing what I had said, and how I had said it, and I saw the image of Olivia’s open face, her easy joy in singing. Perhaps I retraced our conversation only to protract the lesson in some way during the week. In this way I could avoid my circumstances at home.
For that night as I turned the psaltery, Katherine put her head in her hands and sighed, and said it would be better not to play at all. I changed my course and the next evening sang only plainchant, making my voice as soft and comforting as possible.
But she drew her shawl about her shoulders and came to sit next to me on my stool. There she repeated to me that the music she heard in her mind, whose perfection made her yell and writhe, was not of the world, but came directly from the Lord. So worldly music and sounds were only poor imitations, distracting from worship, as all worldly pleasures do.
There was quiet that evening in our empty house, empty of the sound of children and empty of conversation, empty of music. It was a place where sound became odious to both of us—the crack of a stool, the creak of our bed as we settled there.
I tried again to approach my wife in the night, for it was cold and we slept with our clothes off as always, tucked under the foot of the bed. But she turned to me and spoke softly:
“John, I have given you sorrow. But the Lord has a remedy. We must go to the anchoress, declare celibacy, and I will again wear white.”
And she smiled, petting my face as if I were a child. This soft stroking of my skin, her face and breath held near to mine were so hateful to me that my jaw tightened and I fought an urge to strike her.
“No,” I told her.
“No?” she asked, as if she did not believe my refusal.
And I repeated, “No.”
The next day my wife did not eat. She couldn’t bear the strength of mead, she said, or of meat. And all that week and into the next she would only sip from the broth of a boiled root. She no longer spoke to me, and though it was winter she walked with no shoes, placing her toes first so that the boards would not sound when she entered a room.
After a fortnight, she was so weak that she fainted daily. Yet leaning upon her maid she went to church, and to the anchoress in her cell, and when they had seen her the townspeople were drawn to this ethereal creature, including the neighbors who had shunned her. Some came to our house to ask her advice, and for prophecy. They were embarking on a pilgrimage, they said, and wanted to know if the day they had chosen was auspicious. Would she pray for a woman on the brink of death, would she find out if this woman might indeed recover? Was another woman’s husband in heaven or purgatory? And though my wife seemed happy in this role, she continued to fast.
“Eat,” I coaxed her.
I knew her silent answer: I will eat again when you come with me to the anchorite and take the vow.
Olivia’s strength improved as my wife’s waned. I had met with her three times over the course of that month. Often we talked at length before the lesson began, and if her nurse was in the room, she too might join in our conversation. These were easy, ordinary words, concerning the season, or the news of a birth or a neighbor’s pilgrimage, for example, but because I had no companion with whom to speak at home, they seemed the more delightful to me. Perhaps in any event the girl’s voice would have pleased me, so high was her laugh—it tinkled like a little bell.
Now she stood without grasping and did not need to clutch the table, and her singing had become so sweet and clear I could hear it in my head at night as I lay waiting for sleep. At those times, too, I sometimes found myself wondering if my own left eye was not very far off its course, after all. I had been observing it in the glass of late and it seemed to have improved. Or had I exaggerated its homely effect in the past? Was there any way I could be described as handsome? I had a large gap between my front teeth, but they were good. I was not tall, but strongly built. There was some pain caused by these thoughts, for I felt in some way that the Lord had removed me from his protection.
One day, on her last lesson of that month, Olivia was just in the middle of the Rondel d’une Dame à son Amy, from the Chasse Départ, in which a high sol was to be held for several measures. She smilingly ran the notes in the early section, with no strain on her face, but sometimes glancing at me, it seemed, to catch my eye:
Vivons toujours bien raisonnablement…
Let us always live justly
bearing our woes the most peacefully
that we can, without a single offense
to our love, for the first to fault
makes the other live inconstantly thereafter.
It was on the penultimate line, En nostre amour, car le premier qui faut—on its last syllable, faut—that Olivia soared over the high sol, lighting there delicately as the tone opened out into such exquisite vibrations that I cannot describe them, only that they seemed to fill the room and envelop us, so that we stood transported in their aftermath.
We rushed to one another, or really, the student to me. She threw her arms around my waist and I thought nothing of her nurse in the next room and embraced her, let myself gaze at her face turned up to mine, smilingly, and for this moment it seemed the most natural act in the world, so that there was no discomfort or thought of its being an embrace, and there was no need for words.
Still, she laughed and said, “I love you!”
I would like to end my story at this moment. I would like to linger here at the very crux of joy, where the note, and these words, were as one to me.
But I cannot. I then understood something about music that I had not learned from my father, or Jerome of Moravia, or Isodore of Seville. La pulchra nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows—a pause, however small—is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.
The wind that had lifted the bird, and the room, and those hearts within the room, drew still. I was as Adam in the garden—suddenly naked, suddenly shamed. I released her and stepped back. I remember that her smile remained, and then turned curious, so firm was her trust in the note.
“This is a good beginning,” I said. “But you have been ill and should not tax yourself.”
I suppose I said these words strangely. Later I wondered.
The student’s head fell on its stem and she sank onto the bench as if her weakness had returned. It pained me to see that she buried her face in her hands, but I had no experience with love, and its offices, and I did not know what to do. I turned and left without speaking more to her.
In the streets of the old city—with its sturdy Roman buildings, its flowerpots, its neat sewers—every young man I passed seemed a fitting mate for a young nightingale. They wore short tunics with toggles across the front, drawn tightly across their waists. I walked on into the new quarter, past the tanners, where the offal stank in its pile near the street and my house rotted and leaned against its neighbor. In a puddle I saw the blurred vision of my form in its long shabby houppelande, its stiff, high collar hiding my jaw, which I sensed now, in comparison to these young men, was weak and undistinguished. How I wished to be the beloved in the Song of Songs, whose eyes are like doves beside springs of water, bathed in milk, fitly set; whose legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold! Even in youth I had never been the object of admiration, and so I had not minded youth’s passing, but I was now full of jealousy for these fashionably clothed young men. At the same time I was nearly delirious with joy. I replayed those words to myself, words my wife did not speak: I love you.
You may not know, if you have not been called ill formed and ugly from birth and a sweet young girl has never once looked at you in such a way, how thirsty I felt for all that had been denied me! Suddenly Olivia’s smooth face, dark as the curtains of Solomon, seemed very dear; I thought of my wife and the slack skin of her neck, her visions and writhing. I did not mind the vow of celibacy as much as I felt ashamed that in exchange for a healthy dowry, I had given up my right to love.
Of course, I wondered: had Olivia meant to say she loved me? In fact, did she love the music and the note itself, her ability to sing it? Or perhaps my small part in bringing it forth? And if I loved Olivia what did I love? The note? The girl herself? Or my own reflection in her eyes as someone worthy of such feeling?
So my thoughts crossed from happiness to unhappiness, and I could not sleep that night. I was bound for torture, it seemed, for love itself was a sin and promised the fires of hell; and lack of love a present torture. I suffered a kind of madness that could only be relieved by some act of goodness.
There my wife sat slumped in her rocking chair, and her bony shoulders from behind were those of an old woman. She had borne such sorrow; she was dying there in that chair, too weak to rise and take herself to bed.
“You must eat,” I said softly.
“We must go to the anchoress,” she whispered.
And so I answered, “Yes.”
When I again crossed the canal to the old city to see Olivia the deed had been done. My wife was at home in her white robes. She wore a special mantle and ring, having taken the vow with me through the little window carved for the anchoress to receive the sacrament.
Olivia’s nurse saw me into the study, and my hands trembled as I set down my music; as I spoke my normal pleasantries I stuttered. But when the student entered, her greeting was ordinary, and calm. Though she did not meet my eye, I wondered if I had imagined what had transpired just the week before as she began further on in the Rondel:
Desir mapprent telz regretz….
Desire teaches me to know
such sorrows that I know not what can be born of them
And then suffering locks me in her prison
Vexation assaults me and beats me hard and fast
Alas, would you decrease my pain
Si vous pouvez….
There it was, the beautiful voice, but the tone had become slightly reedy somehow. Or was it only when compared with la pulchra nota? But Olivia sensed a lack too, for she stopped singing and shook her head impatiently.
I hoped silently that I was responsible for her failure. For had I not been both happy and melancholy since her declaration of love? And Jerome tells us that melancholy is an obstacle to perfection, that no sound has true beauty if it does not proceed from the joy of the heart. But I was not brave enough to console her with this information.
“I believe,” I said, clearing my throat, “that you love the music because it comes from God. That is…”—here I began to sweat, and wiped my forehead with the long sleeve of my hoppelande—“that is, you are devout, and love God, and the music comes from God. All we do well is from God, every image, every sound, and we return the glory to him. And we will continue in that vein.”
Here she stood and attempted the lines again, but her voice cracked and again she fell to the daybed heavily, shaking her head.
“I am sorry,” she stammered, blushing darkly. “I have told you that I love you,” she said, “and you did not reply. It is shame that causes my voice to weaken.” Her eyes were shining with tears.
These were the words I wanted to hear! But could I erase her shame and sadness? Yes, I should tell her that I returned her love. And I should embrace her; I should sing from the Song of Songs:
Your teeth are like a flock of ewes
that have come up from the washing.
All of them bear twins;
not one among them is bereaved.
And then she would be happy; and in this way I might hear the note again. She would love me the more for that.
The devil spoke to me thus: The note is no harm. It is beautiful, and how can beauty be harmful, when it brings such pleasure? And worldly love is not a sin, but only pleasure, of which you have been deprived.
But the Lord said, If you love the girl, would you profane her? You cannot marry her, though your own marriage be celibate. And to come each week, drawing on her hope, would be to crush and ruin her.
I blinked and regarded Olivia as if from a great distance, summoning the hate of Amnon for Tamar. “You have regressed,” I said. “Or, I may have misjudged your ability. You may be capable of again reaching such a note, but it is no longer within my province.”
As in the beginning, before I had ever heard her sing, she lowered her head and covered her face in her hands, but this time her shoulders shook, and I saw that she hid her tears.
“I will find a suitable teacher to help you,” I said.
I could hear her sobbing as I walked down the stairs, and as I walked out through the courtyard, that mournful sound carried from the open window. I tried to remember it, for I knew it would be the last I would hear that voice.
In my mind our lessons continue and I retrace every word and note and color of the voice, every dear ornament that rose naturally from her throat. I go back to the note, to recall its pitch and its perfection. Or sometimes in dreams the note comes to me, when through the open window a bird will trill and it lasts for what seems like an hour and then she rushes to me, and I wake to find that I can no longer stand or raise my hand to feed myself, and I remember.
I found that day a young minnesinger as dark as my dear student, and handsome, with good teeth and a good position. I sent him to her as a teacher, knowing full well what would happen. The note would sound, and the same feeling would well up in her heart; she would throw her little arms around this young man, and he would be free to respond. I do not know that this happened, of course. But it is written that jealousy is cruel as the grave, and that its flashes are flashes of fire. Over the bridge and crossing home I cried out in rage and frustration; at home my wife lay in her white garments, still weak though she had begun taking food. I told her I would lie with her.
“You shall not, John,” she responded, still softly. And still full of that cloying gentleness, she petted my head, cooing at me and speaking as if I were a small child. “You know what you have vowed.”
Heretofore I had accepted my marriage on her terms, and on her father’s. I was deformed, and fortunate for such a dowry. Yet in that moment my wife seemed a humbug in her wailing and prediction and prophecy, and I forgot the sympathy I had for her.
“You have tricked me,” I said. “Saint Paul wrote that the husband must render his wife what is due her, and the wife her husband.”
“No,” she said.
And she said no again and again as I took by anger and by force what I had sworn never to take again.
This was a great sin. I cannot hope to atone for it.
When it was done I pulled my clothes on and left her there crying. I was going out, I think; and if I knew where I planned to go, I never have remembered it. Would I have left for good? Would I have gone to Olivia, to proclaim my love honestly? I would like to think so. However, it was not to be. As I began to descend, I felt something at my back.
At first I thought the stair had given way—the stairs, too, were rotting in that house. But later I knew it did not give way. They told me I had simply lost my footing. The neighbors found me hours later, my head twisted under me and with such deep wounds they had to be plugged in five places.
A green sapling has sprung up by the window where I have been seated, and a finch has decided to make her nest here. I can’t tell why she has chosen such a place, for the branch is thin and waves terribly in the wind, but whenever I come to the window to peer out at her, the nest remains, and that bright dot of gold I discern through the tree reassures me. I wait for my wife, who comes from her visit with the anchoress to lift the spoon to my lips. For her continued attentions, I am grateful.
She tells me of Sigar, the monk of Saint Albans. He dwelt at Northaw, in the wood, where the nightingales abounded, and their song was very sweet, and his enjoyment of it immense. And so he had them killed. For he should not joy in the warbling of the birds better than the worship of God.
Yet something has happened to me, so strange and wonderful that I must tell it here in the interest of the frankness I have promised. As my world narrows, I find ethereal music in the most ordinary of sounds. My wife does not suspect the delight I take in this.
If I tell you the world is beautiful, then close your eyes; it becomes more beautiful still. The tanner’s wagon has a song, and cries of children are as sweet as the brook’s, and the geese are strong and shocking; and in the market square the cry of the bull is full with breath and moisture and even, it seems to me, the strength of his bones.
I lie in bed, or I sit here. And it seems at times that heaven itself has seen me at the window, and comes to me before my time, as if it suspects I shall not reach it. The sun warming me, the little wind caressing my cheek, the green leaf of a katydid on the sill; these perfect notes sound everywhere, over and over again. For this, the Lord be praised. For all things praised.
This story won a 2015 Pushcart Prize for fiction.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.