Back to home page

TITLE: 'Awaiting the Hymn to Apollo'
THIS VERSION: Copyright © 2004 Kelly Miller; all rights reserved. Redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the translator.

"Mehr Licht," cried Goethe on his death bed. Because he was a fortunate man and saw the light until the last minute, he did not cry simply "Licht," but "mehr Licht": "more light, more light!" Thus his apotheosis began, and, just as lovers whisper "more kisses, more kisses," Goethe - in his lucid agony - prayed for more rays of light, still more rays, for bright white rays.

Something similar to these death throes is currently taking place, for we are now sensing the approach of some kind of all-encompassing death (whether it will lead to resurrection or merely to metamorphosis is still unknown). We are also experiencing agony, in which the great beauty of apotheosis (and, frankly, its theatrical splendor) is hidden; bewildered by its intensity, we cry out: "more light, more light."

But we are still not entirely sure whether we are experiencing the ecstasy of joy or the ecstasy of despair. Something is enveloping and intoxicating us; we are ascending higher and higher; colossal structures are crashing down around us; age-old illusions are shattering; hopes, recently so vital, are fading, and we ourselves are far from sure whether we will be scorched by the rays of the rising sun or whether it will blind us. Finally, this question sneaks up on us: will we survive until the end?

A god is approaching, and the earth is already groaning, disgorging its dead, and false prophets and beasts are emerging in order that the decisive battle may commence.

But wait! The god who is approaching has been transfigured and appears in all his Glory. And thus, it begins to seem that this rising sun is not Jehovah's avenger, not the dark, sorrowful face on Byzantine icons, not Michelangelo's terrible, weary Hercules, but the familiar and beloved god of light, who from time immemorial has seemed splendidly terrifying (remember Niobe's nightmare!) and splendidly tender (remember Hiacynthus and Daphne), radiant and benevolent.

How could humanity have forgotten him? The very one, whose bright symbol daily revolves around the earth bringing it life and joy. But has humanity truly forgotten him? Is he not the compassionate one, who has descended to earth under various guises? Is he not the One who descended into the hell of spiritual depths, to whom scores of generations over the course of centuries have bowed down? Was he not the radiant one who led Dante out of hell's gloomy circles into the world of eternal light? Is he not the one who sings in Bach's oratorios and Wagner's Parsiphal?

It is as if they crucified his brother, Dionysus. And, indeed, they did crucify him. But he who was crucified has already risen and thrown himself into the crowd that crucified him, lovingly intoxicated them with his own blood and led a mysterious and joyful chorus, whose first dance set the universe to trembling and caused false idols of clay to crumble. Already a general bacchanalia has ensued, and it remains nocturnal, wild, disorderly and blasphemous. But his Brother is coming, and commanded by fate, the bedlam of depravity is turning into a well-choreographed dance, into a true liturgy. The ranks of the bestial are returning from field and forest to a new, holy city.

Are these two really brothers? Are these not merely two faces of one Giver of Light? Are not their gifts - dream and intoxication - simply two manifestations, or two stages, of one and the same rapturous experience? These two divine brothers are, in reality, quite close to one another, for even if they part ways and a gaping divide emerges between them, their roots will intertwine in the depths and merge together in the very abyss, where it is so black, so cold and terrifying, that not a single mortal can peer in. But this is where both Brothers come from, from one parent, and so, in essence, their mutual estrangement from one another is only an illusion. As a matter of fact, each creates out of the particular gifts given to him one and the same thing, leading to the very same goal.

Tomorrow a new renaissance must begin. Many know this. But where is this tomorrow, when will it begin, and what will the last night be like? In any case, midnight is drawing near, and dawn is shifting decisively toward the east. A time of madness and orgies, a time of the greatest bestiality and suicidal despair now reigns. Perhaps the worst has not yet even passed, and the darkness will grow still blacker, and the dawn will be extinguished once again. But there, on the horizon, the divine luminary will not cease, but continue to travel round his entire sphere and return when the unforetold hour of his coming is at hand.

How different, how much more joyful this renaissance will be than that which took place five centuries ago! Then, idols - simulacra, and forms arose; here, celestial beings themselves will be born, and the sky above humanity will shine with a brighter light than even in the days of festive Hellas. And time will not cease then, for there will be no need to look around, to remember - all of existence will be satisfied with abundance.

Prayers for a speedier coming of this terrible and joyful hour will be for naught. It will come in its own time. Prayers to stave off its arrival will also come to nothing. They will not help; it will come anyway. Cursing the present darkness, hoping it will clear, will also be useless. But God demands holy sacrifice, and so we need to compose songs and hymns for him, to serve him without fail, despite the fact that he is still hiding in his subterranean kingdom. Even though he is there, we can still pray to him that he accept these sacrifices.

The only hymn that pleases him is the creation of beauty, which illuminates life and man himself. Not only do we need to obey inspiration by painting pictures, composing poetry, and heeding the sounds born in the soul, but we also need to make ourselves pleasing to the god of beauty. And this is why we must pray to both brothers, not forgetting either one. We must send our ardent entreaties to the gods of beauty. May they lead the holy chorus, turn us toward the bright goal, show us how to avoid darkness and inertia, how to tremble with shared joy, how to become truly enlightened.


To which brother does the dance belong? Who leads the chorus: Apollo or Dionysus? Are they working side-by-side or are they taking turns, spelling and assisting one another? The bacchantes of one become the muses of the other, but both gods are dancing. And what kind of dance is it? Is it only rhythmical movement to given music, a part of life, a spasm, or is it a dance that will become (must become) the rhythm of all life, the external transformation of all human activity, a constant miracle of witnessed beauty? We should make it our goal to take part forever in the dance before the sacred ark of the covenant, to create an irrepressible liturgy. Indeed, the ark of the covenant is always before us - it is all of nature, all of its mysterious beauty.

For the modern person, the unceasing quality of life's liturgical rhythm is a distant (and even alien) dream. There is still too much bestial indifference, depravity and every kind of darkness to think of transforming one's own body into a vessel of grace. The body is ready to serve gods, but so quickly tires and loses its way. Therefore, it has created a fragmentary liturgy and selected from its ranks liturgical "professionals," some of whom serve in churches and others on stage. It is as if these "professionals" and others are capable of making up for the weaknesses of the rest of humanity and representing the mass of supplicants to the divine.

It is no coincidence that interest in dance, as well as a desire to adorn all of everyday life with beauty, has been growing in recent years. But these desires are now very difficult to realize, for the doubts of consciousness - which are now impossible (even sinful) to part with - have interfered in all human endeavors. In the face of the insufferable intractability of life's design, these strivings manifest a vain character, common to all, and too often end in failure. But, for us, it is important to note the positive quality of these strivings - they hold immense meaning, for they demonstrate that the thirst for beauty and light is a semi-conscious desire to make life divine.

Perhaps, it is possible to say that all of art is a dance, for all of art is the decoration of life, the manifestation of its beauty. Are not pictures - in which lines intertwine and diverge in mysteriously beautiful order, in which there is rhythm and harmony, in which both rapture and elan is expressed - the very dance itself, only present in a concentrated, crystallized, miraculously frozen form? Does architecture, and all the arts that depend upon it, not serve this very same goal: to create the beautiful whole of life, to lift one's mood into the airy heights, to achieve a sense of noble clarity or sweet intoxication? Does the god of light, with his splendid visage, or actually the two gods - related and almost identical, who in dance lead people out of darkness and battle against its stagnation and death - not dwell in these arts?


It is time to ready ourselves. It is time to learn how to compose hymns in order to greet the promised coming in a fitting way. But these hymns will not be pleasing if they are lifeless, i.e., some kind of aesthetic self-gratification, ascetic heresy or even school lesson. Art must be freed from narrow limitations and from the burden of trying to be inappropriately useful. But art does not have to exist solely for art's sake, because art, being from God, exists for God and must be rendered unto him. This is the language in which humanity converses with celestial beings, and we have to learn to speak this language without corrupting it with foreign words.

In our time, the arts are giving off an oppressive corporeal smell. Masses of hierophants neglect to compose hymns and have forgotten about them, while some (the chosen ones, nonetheless) sing them badly, without joy, with broken psaltries and timbrels. However, if much has been forgotten, then much (too much) also serves as a reminder. Facing a considerable and inevitable rout (a therapeutic one, no doubt, but still terrifying), recent generations are remembering everything that was foretold to them just as a drowning man sees his life flash before his eyes. But too much advice and too many appeals are crowding about and trying to save the drowning. We have lost our heads and are sinking deeper and deeper.

Will we not be lost entirely? Will we not give ourselves over cowardly, ignobly to despair - into the claws of the Beast? Even those who want this to happen (those who have resolved to desire this fully and to seduce others are committing a terrible sin), have still not altered the course of their destinies. The future does not hold death and darkness, but life and enlightenment.

We need to pray for inspiration, for that which the Giver of Light has demanded in holy sacrifice. And we also need to pray that this hymn not be "literature," but an authentic part of life, true to all of life. Little of beauty is thought or spoken, so we need to reveal beauty, to give birth to it constantly. And rarely is beauty found in lifeless crystallized images, so we should allow beauty to move and weave in them with all the energetic movement of a person. And again we remember dance. People have banished it to the stage and have themselves decided to become freaks. On stage, the dance, performed for its own sake, has been separated from life, has turned into spasmodic paroxysms and shameful buffoonery. If only people's actions were to become unceasingly beautiful, then dance would become the law of life. At the same time, the artists of dance (those priests of a now unholy temple) must remember their calling: to serve beauty and beauty alone.


At the end of the eighteenth century, Europeans sought to resurrect the beauty of ancient Hellas. But the opposite occurred. They adopted a rigorous system for copying statues, frescoes, churches, so that gradually everything died - life vanished from art forever. Before the beginning of this period there was considerable beauty in life, although it is true that it was too childish and depraved (depraved children created an art of trifles and flourishes, of powder and pigtails), but nevertheless, all humanity lived in beauty. Everyday life was beautiful and beauty was spread throughout everyday life. The appeal of classicism spawned the lifelessness of pedantry and forced art out of life into the icy spheres of the aesthetic profession. This is where the disintegration began, as a consequence of the discord between the beauty of life and the beauty of art. And gradually beauty in life completely died away, while beauty in art became superfluous and, eventually, far too rare.

Continuing to live like this is impossible. It is time to try to escape this suffocating "aestheticism" and professional problems. But we do not want to escape into the forest or the wilds, to satyrs or Mars, but would prefer to make beauty once again something vital to be shared by all. We want to live in beauty, not just bow down to beautiful, dead things. We want to sing hymns, tend altars, and establish promised processions and dances. Not only do we need beautiful holiday celebrations, but also beautiful working days. All the rhythms of everyday life must be renewed and illuminated, and everyday life must move to the rhythm of dance. Everything must be an expression of the ubiquitous nature of God, an uninterrupted hymn to Him.


We have let ourselves go so badly that we have simply forgotten the hymn. We would like to arrange everything "in our own way" - a consequence of our deeply-rooted scepticism. "In our own way" means with a little note of self-conscious irony, with a little laugh: "perhaps something will come of it, but perhaps not - in either case, it won't embarrass us." Indeed, we are joking from the very start, for it is convenient to hide behind an ambivalent laugh, "to be on the safe side." But the sinfulness of this division in thought, of this equivocation and human vanity, of service to gods is immense. We must outgrow irony, for it has decayed. Those who have definitively felt the proximity of the Comforter must have greater faith, simplicity and hope.

But how does one compose hymns? How does one learn this forgotten art? And how, especially, does one create a hymn that will remain continually vital, that will contain the dancing rhythm of life, the everyday motions of human activity? Doesn't the desire to compose such a hymn seem kind of funny in these days that are shackled by ugliness, epidemics of rationality, and the technology of machines; in these days that are marked by the systemic disfigurement of nature, gloomy despondence and an incited battle for existence? Isn't it kind of funny if you consider our clothing, our noisy streets that have grown dark in a sea of wires? Isn't it kind of funny if you consider all the depravity and cruelty of our morals? So, let it be funny, but let it be, for it is necessary. We need to remember this, to get used to the idea, as suggestive forms and inspired hints appear, and a clew begins to be wound, the thread of which no strength will be able to cut. And people will create new art, establish new kinds of interrelationships, a new way of life, whose conditions we have yet to dream of.

There is currently too much playful levity in regard to the divine, too much witty sophistry and lack of true faith. Instead, we need to believe and pray. And how can you not believe if you allow the entire image of the one, who in the very first days of creation led the holy dance of beauty, to appear in your soul? What resembling Him exists in the world? Is he really merely an idea or figment of the imagination? Does he really not exist, does he really not call the poet to holy sacrifice? Was the great seer Pushkin only joking, speaking in mere literary phrases? Did he not believe? How can you not believe when He is omnipresent, when His enlightened, prophetic smile appears in everything, when He converses both with his soul and with all the feelings of humanity?

He has not abandoned us, even during these many centuries of total neglect. Neither have we forgotten him, but we simply do not recognize him for who he is; we take him for another. It happened this way, because it had to. It was necessary to illuminate the depths of the human soul and allow it to flourish in beauty. It was necessary to call to holy sacrifice Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa, Fra Beato and Giotto, the Freemasons and the inspired sculptors of Pisa and Florence. It was necessary to awaken the great magis of music, the scores and scores of priests of the mind and spirit. Now then, passing through this circle, it is time to again remember the body. And we need to prepare it, and it must be illuminated with beauty, and, most importantly, it must begin to serve the One, who calls it to service.

Apollon, 1 (1909): 5-11.