PHILIP RICE

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Black Hours We Have Spent

2.1.3.1/4/3.4.3.2/4 / 7.5 minutes

“black hours we have spent” is a phrase from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The text describes the helpless guilt felt by the author, trapped in a body he perceives to be flawed— inherently wicked and dark:I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.

What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

The hymn tune used as the bases for the themes in the piece is a 17th century German melody called Herzliebster Jesu (“Ah, Holy Jesus”). The words to the hymn describe the guiltlessness of Christ, contrasted with the guilt of humanity:

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

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Recording: CMU New Music Ensemble; Drew Shankles, conductor

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