In Search Of Life

Nathan Sage

Nathan Sage is a Creative + Director at Living Cinema. A filmmaker with a particular affinity for Super8 and 16mm film, he draws his inspiration from photographs and old movies, and life in general.

My latest adventure is a comic book I’m working on with artist Ron Joseph, called The Shepherd. It tells the story of Astrid, a young tribal shepherd on a distant planet who is put to the test when an ancient beast is chased onto her flock’s grazing grounds. This video filmed and edited by the very talented Ben Hunter.

To Be a Pilgrim

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

-“To be a Pilgrim,” from Part 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, 1684.

What language shall I borrow?

Now and then I can recall a moment I stopped singing and just stood there clutching my hymnal, listening to the words. Today it was in the fourth verse of the old hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” That verse is different from the others; of the five verses it is decidedly unique in its tone and poetic value, and the reason becomes evident as one discovers the original four verses (numbered 1-3, and 5) were taken from a poem written during the Middle Ages, by Arnulf of Louvain. Verse 4, however, was written by a man who lived more than five hundred years later: James Waddell Alexander, an American Presbyterian minister from Virginia. The music is an arrangement by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is the first verse, originally from a poem by Arnulf of Louvain, and adapted into a German hymn by Paul Gerhardt:

"O Sacred Head, sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn;
O Kingly Head, surrounded with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur? Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor the hosts of heaven adore!”

And now here is the fourth verse, written by J.W. Alexander in the early 1800s. The words are piercing, and deeply inspired. 

"What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for Thee.” 

Alexander’s full 1830 version of the hymn can be read here.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Now and then one comes upon a meditation that cuts straight to the heart. Over dinner, a dear friend granted me a look down the lines which had led him to see the value of life in a new light; his epiphany had taken the form of a poem, a small piece from the musings of John Donne, whose 1624 book Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions would find its way onto the cover of one of Ernest Hemingway’s own great masterpieces.

"Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? But who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee."

-John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

You should tell me…

"You should tell me how much you love me right now, because some people don’t wake up from the anesthesia." I let out a stuttered laugh, a bit speechless at how cliche she was being. I thought about how to answer it in some way other than "I love you to the moon and back," but anything snappy or rude wouldn’t fit. What if she really didn’t wake up from the anesthesia? Fat chance, but enough to make her statement cruel. All these thoughts flitted past me in the space of a second. I opened my mouth to speak. And with that, the dentist’s assistant called her name. She got up, laughed in my direction and walked away.

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