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Use of the old revitalizes the new, a truism exemplified in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major (1900). Like his peers, he discovered collections of centuries-old German folklore and reworked significant ones for voice and orchestra. One of those collections was Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1805) collated by the Romantic authors, Achim von Arim and Clemens Bretano.

From this classic, Mahler selected the poem, Child’s Vision of Heaven/Das himmilsche Lebe. He incorporatedits four verses, by intervals, within the fourth movement of his Fourth Symphony. The soprano’s lilting playfulness always brought smiles to audiences and referenced similar patterns in preceding movements: The result was an hour of music that intrigued psyches and enlarged humdrum worlds.

This always has been my experience with Mahler’s Fourth, both in symphony halls and YouTube. Yet my unfamiliarity with the German language prompted me to look up Das himmilsche Lebe and imagine that rustic world of past ages when Christianity was shared.

The poem reflects the simple, unadorned faith, simplicity, and joy of children, just in from the fields, gathered around the itinerant storyteller beneath the sprawling oak.

Critical to their sense of heaven is the heavenly vegetable patch: good greens of every sort, good apples, good pears, and good grapes…The abundance of fish, fowls, lambs, and wine suggests the satisfaction of full bellies, accompanied by bread that Saint Martha and the angels make. Overseeing this harmony are other saints Peter, John, Luke, and the martyr Ursula, reputed from Cologne, Germany. In that world, whenever it was, such listeners thrived until the arrival of the next storyteller.

In the poem, Das himmilsche Lebe, all is indeed very well. Mahler’s arrangement for soprano provides inexplicable joy to the score—Such is the Kingdom of heaven. 

February is already slipping into its second week of colorlessness.

True, a splotch of red will play with Valentine’s Day but then recede into blandness, one that enervates imaginations, yet unleashes insatiable longing.

And winter’s ferocity still stings bare calves, still evokes watery eyes, still demands snow shovels—all bound to induce shivers like frosted prods piercing our psyches and forcing consciousness lest we perish. Life appears inhospitable, as we tear off our boots for the warmth of slippers and a cup of hot chocolate.

But is it inhospitable? For those acquainted with February’s lessons, there is much to learn: subtle colors in blandness, snow tracks of furry creatures, icy-wet fingers sluicing windows, silence on the roads, and most of all, critical moisture for root systems.

Such lessons also correlate with the psyche’s need for resting in the Sacred, a resting toward intimacy with the Heart of God, during contemplation or a solitary nature walk. Thus exposed, we cannot but be touched by intimacy and breathe anew and look for opportunities for service.

Such renewal sparks any season, even our own.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

So concluded Amanda Gorman as she bowed to the audience’s tumultuous response gathered in front of the Capitol, the afternoon of President Biden’s inauguration. Everyone was deeply glad to be American, devoid of divisions, if only for those moments in the sun.

Yet, Something had caught fire and would not be extinguished: powerful, resplendent, omnipresent, it released a common vision tinged with joy. It felt like a spearhead for change, perhaps similar to the one relished by our Founding Fathers.

Perhaps it was the new dawn blooms, the light—energy critical for growth; with it, comes responsibility, discipline, and honesty, hard-won virtues that enervate sloth’s hold upon our unconscious and jettison us from this never-ending shade inherent within our centuries-old history.

However our near future evolves, we can return to this vision of light with its empowerment for change and remember. Many, perhaps, will discover their God, within, and be amazed.

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