Monday, October 5, 2015

Priase* (for Praise*)

One of the very first poems I ever learned was the Doxology, something we recited every Sunday at church. My mother tells me I had it memorized well before I went to school, and I can sort of see why now. For one thing, it's relatively short and it's put to music. And then there is all that deceptively simple lushness of language: "Him," "from," and "Whom"; "above" and "heavenly"; "Holy" and "host"; "God" and "Ghost." It was among my earliest examples of how this sort of poetry works, with its marvelous rhyming and scanning, alliteration and assonance. Henry Van Rensselaer speaks of his own experience with this verse in Life and Letters of Henry Van Rensselaer: Priest of the Society of Jesus, by Edward P. Spillane (1908): "Communion service ... was rather for convenience than for high teaching. However, I was on the rise and began the practice of bowing the head at the Gloria Patri, and then of kneeling in the Nicene Creed at the Incarnatus. I remember distinctly that those who did so were publicly rebuked on Christmas morning by Dr. Muhlenberg for bowing at the doxology, and we were bidden not to bend like bulrushes, but to hold our heads erect..." If those instructions were effective, it may have been due, at least in part, to the mellifluous turn of phrase "bend like bulrushes." That kind of thing can really stick with you. Let me put it this way: Praise God for whom these words are sung, praise Him for smoothing out our tongue. Praise Him, and let us raise a toast. Praise pious tunes we love the most! There doesn't really seem to be a whole lot known about Henry Van Rensselaer, but it seems he was the great-great-grandfather of rock legend David Crosby, a man who definitely knew how to write a good song. There were 18 cases of Priase* (for praise*) found in OhioLINK today, and 152 in WorldCat.

(Portrait from Life and Letters of Henry Van Rensselaer, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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