“The Harmony of Flowers” Zeitler [PIANO]

"Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise"


The title of this week’s prelude was inspired by poetry by Christopher Smart (1722-1771).

Christopher Smart was born to a moderately well-to-do family in England. When he was 11 his father died, and their estate had to be sold to pay off debts with not much left over. Wealthy relatives provided haven for the surviving Smart family, and Smart ended up attending Pembroke College where he helped defray expenses by waiting on the "Fellows’ table" and other suchlike menial tasks.

He was an accomplished Latinist, however, and earned both income and reputation by writing poetry in Latin and translating poetry by Alexander Pope into Latin (!) – in addition to his English efforts including a poetic translation of the Psalms. At age 27 he moved to London to seek his literary fortune, achieved some success, married and had two children. Sadly, outgo chronically exceeded income (in part due to the standard of living to which he wanted to become accustomed), and the strain of overwork finally overcame him.

In 1757 he was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital for the insane, diagnosed with cyclothymia (a kind of bipolar disorder) — Smart’s most conspicuous symptom was a compulsion to pray loudly in public at any time or place. Due to his docile demeanor he was allowed books, pen and paper, and wrote much of his poetry while confined. (His wife left with his children for Ireland never to be seen by Smart again.) He spent the rest of his life in and out of asylums and chronically in debt – until the end when he was released from the asylum only to be put in debtor’s prison where he died at age 49.

Here are a few lines from his poem “Of Flowers”:

For there is a language of flowers.
For elegant phrases are nothing but flowers.
For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.
For flowers are musical in ocular harmony.