Thomas Wolfe Kohler, “O Sing Now, Muse,” in Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2003 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003), 131–145.
O Sing Now, Muse
Thomas Wolfe Kohler
O sing now, muse, and through me make truth shine
With all the ancient gleam of holy light
That is the herald of thy God-sent task
To comfort fallen man and guide his path.
Make sacred now my song as when of old
You did give strength to speech of men that they
Could cast the very demons out to heal;
Or make my voice a roaring trump to sound
Great calls so all the pagan walls collapse,
Because of all of Adam’s seed am I
The least, and worst equipped to sing of how
The grace of God gave shape to starry skies,
And Sun, and Moon, in their concentric spheres,
To light a world to house what He in His
Own image and of lowly dust did forge.
Make quick my tongue to move by verse the world
Lest truth become so lost in myth that we
Forget our place and how we came to it
By nothing less than the pure love of God.
The Earth was without form, as all must be
That know the hand of God to give them shape
And mold them to a grander scheme than they
Alone could dream or hope to be, in all
The lengthy nighttime of their lightless sleep.
Almighty God, whose smallest whim is law,
Sent forth His Spirit out upon the dark
Chaotic Void to gently waken it
From torment’s sleep. Then, in such might and in
All of the majesty that such as it
Could stand, God went to win it for His work.
It oozed into a spongy slime beneath
His shine and trembled there. All fearful and
Voluminous, its many squinting eyes
And gnashing teeth much sooner would have crept
Away than face its Lord. In misery,
But unable to know its wretched state,
The Void cried out confused, “How be it that
You come all armed in might to take from me
My ease with your perfection? I, who yet
Have never known the burden you call wrong
Nor ever felt the freedom you call right,
Have little cause to speak with you and would
Have less.” Then spoke the mighty Lord of All,
“Have peace, and still thy corpulence from its
Unbridled shaking. I come armed alone
With pleasant speech and words to show thee how
Thy place in paradise might be acquired.”
Thus pacified in part, its shaking ceased.
Yet still inside the churning madness of
Its mind it feared, for well it knew the strength
And might the simplest word of God possessed.
“But how can you, who claim to know all things,
Believe that I can be convinced to leave
My endless, free existence in exchange
For anything that you could have to give?”
“I come as ever I have come,” said God,
“To heal what would be healed and nothing more.
I make no secret of my task because
By it shall glories come, such as surpass
Thy will to be without.” God spoke again,
His heart filled with compassion for the Void
And said, “Behold this suffering, which thou
Wouldst have me deem a life, is nothing more
Than the continuance of timeless pain,
And hurtful beyond every waste it is,
For while one half of thee consumes itself
The other in an endless birthing is,
And naught is ever gained by this but pain.”
“But also nothing ever has been lost,”
The many sounding voices hissed and spat.
God then replied, “Thinkst thou that even in
Thy greatest times thy very best attempts
Could ever bring thee more than can mine own?
Be still and know that if thou heed’st my word
I can and will cleanse thee of all thy pains
This foul disease will make thee mad no more
And I will take the disarray that is
Thy weave and then, upon my very word,
I will bestow on thee the purest light.
Behold, the new God-tailored robes I would
Array thee with and learn the scope of this
Presented covenant.” God blessed the Void.
His purity stretched far and wrapped the horde
Resplendently. His power beamed upon
The gloom until no remnant of the dark
Remained. Though still the Void lay order-less;
Such was the nature of that purest light
That, by reflection, even Chaos could
Become a thing of beauty and of worth.
And as is yet the case, though many lives
Of man have passed since this event occurred,
Where God’s great light takes root, it washes way
Rebellion by its gentleness. The pain
Soon ceased, and Chaos then did taste
The sweetness of its Lord. Its heart was freed
From age-old bondage, and it finally saw
The seeds of faith: “If thou canst see in me
A worth that merits such a blessed shine,
Then teach it to me that, through thee, I may
Know it forever more and not despair.
For even now, I know that if I loose
From off me this Thy gift, then I will feel
More keenly all the pains of all these years
When I, unknowingly, have been without
Thy guide to give me course to tread and thy
Dear light to be my ever-present road.”
Thus penitent and pleadingly the Void
Did speak to God, for it had felt the joy
That ever will be the reward of those
Who set aside their foolish pride and, in
Exchange, desire to covenant with Him.
“Accept my service, Sovereign Mine, and in
Return I plead that thou wilt do with me
As best becomes thy will. For now I know
That surely as my darkness has been turned
To light by thee, so too shall all you touch
Be turned unto a greater good if it
Will be but thine to mend and thine to heal.”
“Then come,” said God, “accept this baptism
Of light that now you bear to be a sign
Between us that as thou shalt strive to do
My will so, too, shalt thou receive of me
This healing which is called the mercy of
Behold the mercy and the gentleness
Of Him to whom belong both Earth and Heav’n.
Though powers past the measure of man’s mind
Are His, God ever has decreed that there
Be choice; and though He gives the world his law
He will not force his subjects to be saved.
Instead He brings to pass His will by show
Of purity and matchless love without
An end that has forever been His joy.
Thus, having freed the blackness of its sloth
And disorder, the Mighty King of All
Was pleased, for now he knew it would obey.
And then, O muse, He spoke, His voice the Sound
Of rushing wind, and said, “Let there be Light.”
And thus it was and it was good, for He
From whom all good has sprung had willed it so.
As when, by prophet’s word, the Red Sea swept
In twain and so was split as He desired,
So too did darkness and the light break free
Of one another that they might receive
Their given names; for light, the Day, and for
The darkness, Night. Then the angelic hosts
In union gathered ‘round their King to do
Him honor as befit their place and His.
Then on the morrow God and angels both
With firmament the young and foaming sea
Did gird, to make a gulf between the top
And water, which was down beneath. All through
The day they toiled and when the work was done
God then, with His all-piercing eye, looked out
Upon that work of morning, noon, and eve.
And “Heaven” was the name that God ascribed
To that day’s toil as all passed into night.
The waters then they made submit to land,
As from the briny depths they brought land forth.
The mighty Lord of Hosts inspection made,
And all who worked did pause to give Him praise.
Of Seraphim, a little one was sore
Amazed by all the toil and knew not why
So many worked to raise that mass of rock
And mud from where it hid its formlessness,
So went he to the foot of his great God
To seek for wisdom that, in perfect faith,
He knew to there reside. In reverent
And prayer-like way he told his loving God
His heart and, smiling all his fears away,
God then began to sing, so sweet that each
And every note a miracle of range
And harmony became, as would the song
Most mean if lips of Him most high were heard
To sing it. As He sang, the Earth bore fruit;
And grass and living herbs and seeds sprang up.
Then, laughing with the joy and beauty of
This sight and song, that young seraph flew down
And with the members of his belov’d host
Went through the fields and orchards and made sport
Of singing snatches of God’s song to see
What fruit or vegetable they might perhaps
Coax out of void—of nothingness—to life.
Twas thus that the more homely plants took shape,
for though the Seraphim lack not for good,
Their singing best becomes the choirs of heaven
When greater orders sing the harmony,
And Michael, with his careful glance, can keep
God’s little ones’ attention on the words
And on the rhythm of the song, or else
With ease they may forget and improvise
Their own; and though in all angelic choirs
No discord sounds, the higher harmonies
Are lost when Seraphim are left to sing
Unbound. God, still amused, pronounced the name
Of this new land as “Earth.” And water down
Beneath the firmament He gave the name
Of “Seas.” Then took He time to go and see
The plants, from the most mighty tree down to
The merest of the shrubs. The Seraphim
Each stood beside the foliage that they loved
The best, and God gave praise to each as though
The weeds had been the work of His own hand,
Despite the shape and stature they achieved.
And thus it was that the third day passed by,
With all the populace most pure, as stars
Beholding from on high the walk of God
Upon the earth. Now, if He ever lacked
For inspiration, one could see how that
Assembled throng alone could well have served
As model for the stars and moon and sun
That next he made. But since the end is known
To Him at the beginning, He is not,
As mortals are, in doubt and blind as to
The step to follow step. So with such sight
As God’s, inspired thought, it seems, must be
An ever-present flow without an end
And with no need for outside sparks or seeds.
Mankind can taste divinity at times
In those rare glimpses that are brief as they
Are beautiful; and men, in ignorance,
Have ever claimed that genius for their own
Which chases doubt or darkness from their minds.
Men ever have forgotten that it is
The Lord who brings to Void, or beast, or them
Whatever light they find within themselves.
But God alone deals knowledge to the Earth
And from within His vast omniscient mind
Stems forth everything that has ever been
And ever will be worth the matter or
The thought it was or will be fashioned with.
It is the doom of men that they forget
The Lord and think themselves to be more than
The dust from which God made their mortal flesh.
It is the gift of God that men be brought
To know Him once Again. But who could hope
To justify the ways of God to men?
So of God’s own devising were the stars
To mark the many passages of time,
And shine for signs and seasons, days and years,
And keep a perfect count as though instead
Of stars they were celestial sands inside
An hourglass that turns around the Earth.
The Sun, the greater light, to rule the day,
And Moon, the lesser light, to rule the night,
He did direct to form; and then some twelve
Archangels brought both orbs into their skies.
The Sun and Moon then both shone down on Earth
For though both had dominion in their spheres,
They were both glad to be ruled by their God
And shine upon Him as with all His hosts
He stood upon the beach and taught those hosts
To form the beasts and give to each one life.
They watched in awe and eagerness as He
The shining scales of a small fish did form.
And gently, as He knit them into shape,
He made the eyes and gills and last the tail.
It rested in His hand and felt the bliss
That only can be felt by those who know
Themselves to blamelessly be in God’s palm.
And then, with that tiny creation done,
He lowered it into the surf. And soon
Beneath his watchful eye each angel, too,
Was crafting fish to fill the sea. And each
Aquatic masterpiece portrayed the joy
Of those who, by God’s power, gave them life.
The angels all began by doing what
Their God had done. In all exactness they
Formed fish in image and in likeness of
The one He first had made. But soon, at His
Insistence, They began to make all sorts
Of colors, forms, and sizes that they could
Conceive of and put, resting, in the sea.
And God encouraged then, as He does now,
That all use inspiration, which He gives
To work the miracles that He would work.
And as the angels worked the will of God
None thought to take the credit for their own,
But even as their hands did toil they cheered
And gave all praise and all the glory to
Their God alone, whose instruments they were;
For well they knew their place in His great plan
And had no thought save their desire to serve
Him and be swallowed up inside his love.
And thus it was with all who that day stood
Upon the very shores of Earth and forged
The fish until their pure white robes and hands
Took on that smell that so distinctive is
Among the swimming beasts and fishes who
Without parents were born into the sea.
The morning passed, and every hand took part
As best it could until the seas did teem
With every class of fish and beast that God
In all His wisdom did desire to form.
God was contented by the joy both of
The creations and the creators for
The gift of life in truth ennobled all,
Both those who gave and also who received.
And that dear gift that has been breathed so sweet
Upon us all who walk this earth or swim
Within its seas, is marvelous alone.
But so great is the love of God our Lord
That He gives out this marvel free to all;
And then, He gives to all their lives again,
As they are sure to misuse and misplace
Them while they walk this world and lean upon
Their will in place of His more knowing guide.
Now, Muse, convey through me a part of the
Great joy felt so complete by all of those
Who were the first to stir the seas with fins
And tails, and who, upon that day of their
Most bloodless birth, united in a song
Of praise to God, a song such as cannot
Be taught or learned but yet is known to all,
Unrecognized. God descended to them,
And when the song came to a close He said,
“This day into the waters of my world
You are all born, and each of you now has
A precious gift. And with that gift, a task.
And with that task, the joy of salvation.”
So God began to tell the sea beasts all
Their many varied natures, and then He
Asked each if they, in gratitude for life,
Would fill the roles that He, to each, prescribed.
And all the beasts made oath to do their best.
Then God declared, “How pleased am I in this
Day’s work and how content. I have beheld
You all, and you are Good and full of all
The promise I require that you display.
Come learn of me how best you can fulfill
Your many tasks, for never shall I give
To you a labor to perform, save I
Shall first prepare a way for your success.
‘Mid seas and currents I will be thy guide,
And of the arts of movement through the waves,
I your instructor shall become, that you
May know that I am God in sea as well
As in my heavens high above this deep.”
And then, the Lord of Hosts walked out upon
The surging frothy waves, and they were stilled
To welcome His most gentle footstep’s tread.
And leaping from the water’s top, the Lord,
Swanlike, dove down into the sea, and all
The creatures of the deep observed His ways
Within the waters, and from Him they learned
To swim and ride the seas with utmost grace.
And all the angels joined the fish and swam
Together with those beasts which they, at God’s
Command, had woven from the willing void
And given blessed breath of life and light.
Then, warmed by the first fruits of sun and moon,
God called His angels and they gathered round:
“This day has work in it as yet, my flock.
So as the sun dries brine from each of us,
And turns salt waters into rains to come,
Let now our eyes and hands be turned to sky.”
The angels looked upon the vastness of
The bright horizon as they heard His word.
And of the clay and light and wind and song
God folded into life a bird and eased
It into empty sky, where it and all
Of airborne kind would ever haven find
And salvation from dangers and from woes
Of Earth, which woes would spring of Earth’s foreseen
And ever-destined fall from God’s good grace.
How similar to man were made the fowl,
For birds escape the blinding dust of Earth
With labor into flight. Yet once Earth’s pull
Is overcome, then masters of the sky
Are they who have strength enough to reach it.
Beyond mortal capacity to count
Were the birds made that day that sifted through
The winds. A symphony of calls frescoed
The still-wet plaster of creation as
Their wings did lift them into circles and
To forms as intricately beautiful
As are the stars. They, too, of God, received
Commissions and, in thanks to Him, gave oaths
To fill the skies with flight and song and spend
Their days in all the works that yet they do,
Still keeping faith with Him who gave them life.
The next day brought the conjure of the beasts.
The dawning of that morn found all God’s hosts
Contesting, not as mortals do, with one
Raging against the other, but instead
They locked in competition with themselves
To each do better than each yet had done.
Each angel’s prize became the doing of
A greater work and masterpiece than he
Or she had yet preformed for God and by
Internal effort overcome what once
Had been their best. The creeping things were first
To heed the angel’s call and to begin
Their land-bound lives.
The creeping things then saw
As hoofed and hornéd beast were made and as
The angels taught them how to walk and move.
For angels ever shepherds were. And so
The angels expertly guided the beasts
Into their many herds, where always they’ve
Found safety from the godless dangers of
The world, after the fall of man brought down
God’s curse for men’s own sakes, making this life
The crucible of souls to sear away
The dross and try the metal of mankind.
That done, the angels, moved by God, began
To craft the beasts that yet remained unformed,
And God beheld these wonders of the world
And said, “Your diverse majesty is great,
And I have laws for you and for your kinds.”
The beasts all heard God’s laws and knelt down low
Before Him. And when they had each received
Instruction from the God of days and dreams,
They ran in haste to go and do His work.
Then God went down and walked upon the Earth,
And God created man out of the dust;
And since that act it often seems that God
Belittled dust by making men of it;
Because, unlike the dust, men heed not God.
But truly it is man who by that sin
Belittles dust. For God exalted dust
When in His image and in likeness of
Himself He made the man, and him endowed
With every attribute of Godliness
By resting in the dusty frame of Man
An angel’s soul, that men might be above
The beasts and learn to live up to God’s gifts.
Except that God withheld the knowledge of
Both good and evil; for divine nature
Could not remain in perfect form if it
Were by God’s hand that evil found its lair—
Foreseen but not condoned—inside Men’s hearts.
Yet, good must be discerned from evil else
All things of worth would ever be unknown.
If ever should God’s children hope to reach
Their long-proclaimed inheritance then they
Must learn to choose the good and right. So God
Allowed Adam to fall, as all men know
By having lived within this fallen world
So long, just as He lets all men today
Walk blind except for faith to find their way
(Which God-ward fumblings of the human heart
Can be more sure and more direct than all
Of sight and touch and smell combined can be)
And God explained to them the world and showed
To them the beauty of the beasts and skies
And seas. He gave to them commandments and
They walked with Him as the cool evening breeze
A vigil kept as did all of the world
That it forever could recall this act,
This crowning act and true beginning of
What true creation might achieve. “Behold,”
Said God, “I give to you this Earth I love,
And it is yours to do with as you wish.
It is to me a glory and a joy
And so I would that it should now be yours.”
“How merit we so great a gift as life
And all the world?” asked Adam to his God.
“My little ones, fear not, for you may yet
Deserve much more. These gifts I bless you with
Since they are mine to give. For now, let it
Suffice that I give this to you because
Far greater than the angels you may soon
Become. For, gaining choice and knowledge, you
May learn of me to choose the better part.”
There was so much that man and woman both
Still did not know, just as yet is the case
With men and women now who look upon
The world, not with the infant eyes of their
First parents, but instead see darkly through
A glass, and not in full. And so God gave
To them their agency and His commands
And left them in His garden to themselves
To tend and care for it and learn to fall.
And when the Fall did come, brought by the one
Who’d learned to fall the farthest, then this world
A time became to prove that men would do
God’s will while far away from Him. A time
To learn repentance and to show that though
They far from Eden are, they see and know
And recognize their faults and trust that He
Can heal and make them whole again through Christ.
As God returned again unto His throne
The newly ordered Void cried out in praise.
And said, “No glory ever can compare
To this, for beyond any dream it is.
Hosanna! Thanks and praise be thine, O Lord,
Forevermore.” God smiled but knew that this
Was but the start of greater things. And as
The angels and creation all rejoiced
God rested knowing all the while that He
Had laid the foundation for man’s long fall,
And that the Fall of man must be before
Adam and Eve could learn to choose between
The bitterness of sin and sweetnesses
Of God. And from that Fall till now and well
Beyond, the course of man is set; for though
There seem to be as many roads as men
Can make, when life is seen in full there is
Only a single choice, a single way,
A single path: To live again with God
Or die, lost from His light forevermore.