Dust to Dust

By Marty, Martin E. | The Christian Century, March 24, 1993 | Go to article overview

Dust to Dust


Marty, Martin E., The Christian Century


Sometimes we are hoist on our own petards when we print readers' submissions of typographica errors. The March 1 M.E.M.O made a mistake about a nonmistake. Joy Urban on staff, who reads 17th-century British poetry and sings British music, caught it. We had noted that a Presbyterian congregation in Riverwood, New Jersey, heard a soloist sing Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Love Bade

Me Welcome," with the line: "Yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin." And we added: "Just before cleaning day?"

Let me say first that the Riverwood Presbyterians are elected and predestined to hear good music. I have heard Williams's settings of the George Herbert songs in recital and overheard them in rehearsa. Harriet Marty has coached a baritone in singing the words that we thought were garbled.

Not having Williams's music at hand, I checked with The New Oxford Book of English Verse, which had been gathering dust, and found the line that revealed my sin. It's in some memorizable lines in one of Herbert's memorable poems, "Love." "Love bade me welcomde; yet my soul drew back,/Guilty of dust and sin . . ."

Guilty of dust? Certainly "lust" -- or, for a burnisher, "rust"? We learn as the poem goes on that its speaker for a time refuses love's questioning, inviting and smiling, because "I" possess "marred" eyes that are not ready to look on pure and holy love; hence, "shame."

Why is this important? It was important to me because my marred eyes were shamed by my act of not knowing or catching a Riverwood typist in the act of not being guilty. That's good for ecumenical relations, because Lutherans want to be best at "drawing back" in guilt, and henceforth I will have a new guilt to keep in my arsena of Things to Be Forgiven. …

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