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"warm and true voices, wake!"
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One of the readings at church this morning was "All Souls," a poem by May Sarton. I was hunting for a linkable copy just now and discovered two things I hadn't known about it: first, that the copy in our hymnal is an abridged version. (There's a complete version in a chalice circle handbook produced by First UU Winnipeg.) Here's the first stanza of the full version:

Did someone say that there would be an end
An end, oh, an end to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November --
Remember and forget, forget and remember.

The second: I hadn't known the circumstances that spurred Sarton to compose the poem. She wrote it when she was 80 years old. [ETA 11/2/2012: I have learned that my new information was incorrect: Sarton wrote a second All Souls poem (published as "All Souls 1991"), which is the one discussed in this letter.] From her journal (30 October 1992):

Yesterday was special because I was able to finish the poem "All Souls" which I had to write because of four articles in the Manchester Guardian Weekly about the children of Iraq and the numbers of them who are dying....And that, of course, is what we did and what President Bush said he had no responsibility for. So he kept the sanctions on, and the food is not getting there. I was in a rage after I read that, and thank God I am a poet because I was able to use it and write a poem that may be of use.

Rev. Gail's sermon, "Remembering Our Ancestors for Real," included a lively synopsis of Roger Williams's life and the apple tree that ate him (according to Rhode Island legend, there was bad mojo in those apples -- people who partook of them reportedly ended up behaving as cantankerously and contrarily as Williams. Some of the stories Rev. Gail told about him reminded me of the old Jewish joke about the guy on a desert island who built three synagogues: when he's rescued, he explains that "one is the shul I used to go to, one is the one I go to now, and one is the one I wouldn't go to if you paid me").

Rev. Gail was a professional sculptor at the time she learned about Roger Williams's grave and the apple tree. She felt compelled to create a rendition of the graves (with Mrs. Williams included), roots, and tree, which she's used in her personal All Souls rituals for over thirty years. It was on our chalice table this morning (along with several apples):

One of my favorite things about All Souls' services is that "For All the Saints" is almost certain to be included -- and today's opening hymn and postlude were both "Abide with Me," another favorite. In addition to being hymns that resonate with me both melodically and lyrically, there's the added bonus of the singers around me being familiar with them: I was flanked by soprano, tenor, and bass this morning on "Abide with Me." When we sing "For All the Saints," the pianist (who is also a soprano soloist) customarily soars up into a descant on the "Alleluias," and when the sun is pouring through the sanctuary windows like it was today, to hear all this -- the majestic march of chords, the congregation in chorus, the shining "Alleluias" -- in such moments, I am so overwhelmingly in love with this world.

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