And Every Breath We Drew Was "Hallelujah"
I watched the dawn come,
Watched the spring dawn come.
And the red sun shouldered his way up
Through the grey, through the blue,
Through the lilac mists.
The quiet of it! The goodness of it!
And one bird awoke, sang, whirred
A blur of moving black against the sun,
Sang again - afar off.
And I stretched my arms to the redness of the sun,
Stretched to my finger tips,
And I laughed.
Ah! It is good to be alive, good to love,
At the dawn,
At the spring dawn.
~Angelina Weld Grimke (poet, abolitionist)
Angelina Weld Grimke’s poem “At the Spring Dawn” brings to mind a cherished line from my favorite song, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The song has been covered countless times, but Jeff Buckley’s version will always be my preference. Earlier this week, as I encountered Weld Grimke’s exultation in the glories of a spring morning, extending arms and fingertips in exuberant pleasure towards the rising of the sun, I thought, “And every breath we drew was ‘hallelujah.’” The arrival of spring, especially in colder regions, such as where I live in Maine, feels like a prolonged, pulsing “hallelujah” of the spirit. We generally spend from late October to late April in various shades of winter, so when spring truly comes in earnest, there is a great bursting out of doors, older students on campus begin to pair up (a-twitter with spring romance), and everyone seems able to bear so much with grace and humor. All is bloom: faces flushed with it, trees bedazzled by it. All is fragrance: even the dirt smells good in the spring. All is sound: birdsong, streams flowing from melting ice, the early buzzing of insects. All is movement: growing, unfurling, flying, swaying, birthing, uttering. And every breath, on a perfect spring day, feels freer and powered by joy.
A favorite Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, expressed it this way in his “May Magnificat:”
“Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together…”
Hopkins captures the fresh textures of the fledgling season, as our winter-weary, dulled senses reawaken to a rush of heightened stimuli. Our souls rejoice at the technicolor of spring and also at the message of hope latent within the season’s fecundity. English nature writer Richard Jeffries wrote, “Every blade of grass, each leaf, each separate floret and petal, is an inscription speaking of hope.” In these tender, dewy months, every breath we draw is “hallelujah.”
There is something uniquely compelling about the word “hallelujah.” I often favor songs with lyrics that contain the word. I can only explain this affinity by surmising that perhaps, in my consciousness, I continually vibrate to a chord of hallelujah. When I hear it sung, the hallelujah within me quivers as it’s strummed, affirming, “Yes! Hallelujah!,” and I register that song as powerful. It calls forth the hallelujah in my spirit. Merriam Webster offers two definitions for the word: one as an interjection and the other as a noun.
“Definition of hallelujah (interjection):
—used to express praise, joy, or thanks
Definition of hallelujah (noun):
a shout or song of praise or thanksgiving”
Either definition and both apply to the thrust of our spring jubilations. The world bursts forth in praise.
How can you make the most of the frolicsome joy offered by the spring season? Surely, getting out of doors as often as possible is part of the answer for me. How can you glory in the changing season and become aware that noticing all the beauty, all the bounty, can be like a prayer, or a single, satisfied sigh of “hallelujah?”