Archive for September, 2008

A royal fish

September 30, 2008

Moby-Dick, or The Whale (1851)
Herman Melville (Everyman’s Library, 1991)
622 p. First reading.

What a glorious book! Big, audacious, potent — it’s terrific. I confess that I approached it with some wariness, having heard that it was difficult and dull, if “important”. Whoever it was told me that was way off course.

Melville has illuminated his stage — the deck of the Pequod — with that light that heretofore fell only on Job and Achilles, causing these sailors to stand forth with a terrible grandeur, despite their lowly origins:

If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave around them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman’s arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! (Ch.26)

In this glow, the ill-starred voyage takes on mythical qualities.  From its ominous beginnings to the devastating conclusion, the story is one of perfect simplicity, the sort of tale that seems to have been there, waiting for someone to tell it.  In Melville’s hands it becomes “a cool, collected dive at death and destruction” — and the devil take the hindmost.

The narrator is Ishmael.  About him we know little, except that he has a gift for language, a vivid imagination, and a penchant for wild-eyed philosophy.  At the helm of the Pequod, of course, and at the heart of the story, is Ahab, the one-legged captain consumed by a lust for vengeance, “a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies”.  His hatred for the white whale so dominates his mind and spirit that Moby Dick has become for him a sign — and a remarkably apt one — of all the vexing, devouring, destroying powers of this world:

Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it. (Ch.41)

Honestly, this is hardly a novel in the usual sense. I’d sooner call it a prose poem, so vivid is the language and the imagery (further examples below), and so pervasive are the symbolic resonances. It is not allegory — which Melville protests is “hideous and intolerable” — but a kind of breaking open of the world, and a plumbing of the depths that open up — dark depths in this case, like the sea itself. The book is charged with a reckless passion; it feels as though it has been written at white heat, and it practically sparks when you open it.

Of course it isn’t perfect.  It was dismissed in its own day for its numerous interpolations of lessons in cetology, whale anatomy, the history of whales in the visual arts, whaling techniques, habits of whales, whale fossils, and so on.  It is a genre-crossing book, as though Melville couldn’t discipline his muse, but he admitted as much: “This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”  It doesn’t matter.  These diversions are hardly dry reading — they are told with the same verve as the rest of it — and there’s nothing wrong with learning about the practicalities of slaughtering Leviathan.

[Poetry in prose]
Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of mighty bulk, and striving in the Pequod’s gurgling track, pushed her on like giants’ palms outspread. The strong unstaggering breeze abounded so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world boomed before the wind. Muffled in the full morning light, the invisible sun was only known by the spread intensity of his place; where his bayonet rays moved on in stacks. Emblazonings, as of crowned Babylonian kings and queens, reigned over everything. The sea was as a crucible of molten gold, that bubblingly leaps with light and heat. (Ch.124)

[Sailor’s delight]
At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth, slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.

These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants’ horses only show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure.

The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked. And all this mixes with your most mystic mood; so that fact and fancy, half-way meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless whole. (Ch.114)

[Moby Dick, philosopher]
He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.

And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor — as you will sometimes see it — glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. (Ch.85)

Sunday night tears and laughter

September 28, 2008

Something a little different this week.  This is terrific:

Chesterton on Chesterton on Chaucer

September 26, 2008

Irresponsible Outbreak of One Who, Having Completed
a Book of Enormous Length on the Poet Chaucer,
Feels Himself Freed from All Bonds
of Intellectual Self-Respect
and Proposes to Do No Work for an Indefinite Period

“Wot ye not wher ther stout a litel town,
Which that y-cleped is Bob-up-an-down.”

The Canterbury Tales

They babble on of Babylon
They tire me out with Tyre
And Sidon putting side on
I do not much admire.
But the little town Bob-Up-and-Down
That lies beyond the Blee
Along the roads our fathers rode,
O that’s the town for me.

In dome and spire and cupola
It bubbles up and swells
For the company that canter
To the Canterbury Bells.
But when the Land Surveyors come
With maps and books to write,
The little town Bob-Up-and-Down
It bobs down out of sight.

I cannot live in Liverpool,
O lead me not to Leeds,
I’m not a man in Manchester,
Though men be cheap as weeds:
But the little town Bob-Up-and-Down
That bobs toward the sea
And knew its name when Chaucer came,
O that’s the town for me.

I’ll go and eat my Christmas meat
In that resurgent town
And pledge to fame our Father’s name
Till the sky bobs up and down;
And join in sport of every sort
That’s played beside the Blee,
Bob-Apple in Bob-Up-and-Down,
O that’s the game for me.

Now Huddersfield is Shuddersfield
And Hull is nearly Hell,
Where a Daisy would go crazy
Or a Canterbury Bell,
The little town Bob-Up-and-Down
Alone is fair and free;
For it can’t be found above the ground,
O that’s the place for me.

— from G.K.’s Weekly.

Chesterton on Chaucer

September 25, 2008

Chaucer (1932)
G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 1991)
220 p. First reading.

Here is a match made in heaven. If you had the chance to dream up ideal pairings of biographers and biographical subjects, you could hardly do better than choose Chesterton to expound on Chaucer, a man for whom he would seem to have a natural affinity. In fact, it isn’t difficult to imagine Chesterton himself appearing as one of the pilgrims treading toward Canterbury, his cape and cap a fair match for the flamboyant accoutrements of his companions, his boisterous laugh enlivening the company, and his mule staggering bravely under his massive weight.

Not only is Chesterton a good biographer for Chaucer, but Chaucer is a good subject for Chesterton.  The very dearth of dates and details about Chaucer’s life, which might be an impediment to a less imaginative biographer, liberates Chesterton to hold forth on any number of topics, sometimes straying well wide of his professed course, and sometimes rather reckless in his speculations, yet always interesting and provocative, and enjoyable to read.

Those who have read his more popular biographies, on Aquinas and Francis, will remember that the frankly biographical aspects of biography tend to be overlooked by Chesterton. The problem here is actually not as pronounced as in those other cases: there are two or three pages where we learn about Chaucer’s parents, and we are told roughly when he lived and where. But for the most part Chesterton is after larger game: the place of Chaucer in English letters and language, what we can learn about medieval England from Chaucer, the place of religion in Chaucer’s work and world.  The book is cheerfully partisan; Chesterton loves Chaucer, and doesn’t pretend otherwise.

He especially loves The Canterbury Tales, and he is at his best when describing the wonderful variety of that company of pilgrims, or speculating on why Chaucer gave particular tales to particular persons.  He has interesting things to say about Chaucer’s relationship to those who came before him, like Langland, and to his contemporaries, like Boccaccio and Petrarch, and to those who came after, like Shakespeare and Dickens.  Beyond the details of the stories, he is interested in what we can learn from Chaucer about history, for he sees the Chaucerian corpus as a good antidote to many misconceptions about medieval European culture, misconceptions that prevent our seeing it clearly and, to Chesterton’s way of thinking, benefiting from what we see.

From time to time I will post excerpts from this book at The Hebdomadal Chesterton.  For today, I leave you with a few nuggets:

[Underestimating Chaucer]
We are not here dealing with a mind to be merely patronized for its simplicity, but with a mind that has already baffled many commentators with its complexity.  In one sense he is taken too seriously and in the other not seriously enough.  But in both senses, almost as many men have lost themselves in Chaucer’s mind as have lost themselves in Shakespeare’s.  But in the latter case they are like children wondering what their father means; in the former, like beaming uncles, wondering what the child means.

[Chaucer the traditionalist]
Now Chaucer is a particularly easy mark for the morbid intellectual or the mere innovator.  He is very easily pelted by the pedants, who demand that every eternal poet should be an ephemeral philosopher.  For there is no nonsense about Chaucer; there is no deception, as the conjurers say.  There is no pretence of being a prophet instead of a poet.  There is no shadow of shame in being a traditionalist or, as some would say, a plagiarist.  One of the most attractive elements of this curiously attractive personality of Chaucer is exactly that; that he is not only negatively without pretentiousness, but he is positively full of warm acknowledgment and admiration of his models.  He is as awakening as a cool wind on a hot day, because he breathes forth something that has fallen into great neglect in our time, something that very seldom stirs the stuffy atmosphere of self-satisfaction or self-worship.  And that is gratitude, or the theory of thanks.  He was a great poet of gratitude; he was grateful to God; but he was also grateful to Gower.  He was grateful to the everlasting Romance of the Rose; he was still more grateful to Ovid and grateful to Virgil and grateful to Petrarch and Boccaccio.  He is always eager to show us over his little library and to tell us where all his tales come from.  He is prouder of having read the books than of written the poems.

[Chaucer contra popular conceptions of medieval culture]
Those strangely fanatical historians, who would darken the whole medieval landscape, have to give up Chaucer in despair; because he is obviously not despairing. His mere voice hailing us from a distance has the abruptness of a startling whistle or halloo; a blast blowing away all their artificially concocted atmosphere of gas and gloom. It is as if we opened the door of an ogre’s oven, in which we were being told that everybody was being roasted alive, and heard a clear, cheery but educated voice remarking that it was a fine day. It is manifestly and mortally impossible that anybody should write or think as Geoffrey Chaucer wrote and thought, in a world so narrow and insane as that which the anti-medievalists laboriously describe. They have no chance, on their own theory and argument, of answering that Chaucer was cheerful because he happened to be lucky in some ways, though unlucky in others; and certainly lived among the rich, though himself, at certain periods, decidedly poor. The whole point of Chaucer is in the fact that he does not retire with lords and ladies, like Boccaccio, to tell his tales. He is enjoying not the walled garden but the world. The world he is enjoying is just as much the world of the Ploughman and the Cook as of the Prioress and the Squire. Moreover, it is vital to the hostile contention that even emperors and princes could be crushed under superstitions that paralysed them like nightmares; and that to all men even the promise of heaven was only the threat of hell. And it is a stark staring fact, of everyday psychology, that a man like Chaucer could not have lived in a world like that.

[Chaucer’s humour]
Chaucer often sounds satirical; yet Chaucer was not strictly a satirist. Perhaps the shortest way of putting it is that he already inhabits a world of comicality and is not a world of controversy. He makes fun of people, in the exact sense of getting fun out of them for himself. He does not make game of them, in the actual sense of hunting them down and killing them like wild vermin or public pests. He does not want the Friar and the Wife of Bath to perish; one would sometimes suspect that he does not really want them to change. Anyhow, a softening element of this sort has got into his satire, even if he really meant it for satire. But, with this step, he is already on the road to the Dickensian lunatic-asylum of laughter; because he is valuing his fools and knaves and almost wishing (as it were) to preserve them in spirits — in high spirits.

From the wreckage of the revolution

September 24, 2008

Part of the preparations for our recent wedding involved setting up a “wedding registry” at some local stores, in order to suggest a few gift ideas to guests who would otherwise be stymied.  Like many Canadian couples, our main registry was at The Bay, one of Canada’s largest department stores.  So far, so good.

Then yesterday we received an unexpected item in the mail.  It was a copy of something called 2Magazine, which advertises itself as “The Magazine for Couples”, and an accompanying note stated that it came to us courtesy of The Bay, in thanks for our having registered with them.  We really don’t need a new magazine, and usually unsolicited print matter goes straight into the recycling bin, but because I had a handful of other mail as well I just carried everything, magazine included, upstairs to our flat and dumped it on the table, intending to sort it out later.

When I did get around to perusing the magazine, I was in for a few surprises, all of them unpleasant.  Let’s start with the cover: it shows a young couple in bed together, apparently naked beneath the sheets, smiling up at the camera.  I am aware that this is rather tame by modern standards, and I know that couples do from time to time lie naked beneath the sheets (though not normally, to my knowledge, with a photographer), but still I was somewhat surprised to see it coming — at one remove — from a stolid institution like The Bay.  Then I noted that scattered around the perimeter of the cover photo were brief summaries of the articles contained therein: a “couple’s makeover” and a guide to “recession-proofing your relationship”, but also, a little more sordidly, a feature on “naughty getaways”, and, in closest association with the cover art, the magazine’s fourth annual “Relationship and Intimacy Guide”.  I opened it up to have a look.

What can I say?  I learned a lot.  In the book review section I found a recommendation for The Good Girl’s Guide to Living in Sin, a book that gives “smart, funny advice” for those planning to co-habitate (apparently this magazine is not just for newly-weds), followed by a positive review of Where’s Dildo?, an activity book of sex games.  A few pages further in was an entire page devoted to various sex games bored couples might try.  Another article is titled “How to Have Sex in Public Places”, and it suggests cultivating carnal relations at Ikea, or in an elevator, or atop a Ferris wheel.  On the advice page I discovered that I should “think about whether the pain will be worth it” before waxing my short and curlies, and I learned that if my wife doesn’t keep pace with my sexual appetite she should see that I “take a time out” with pornography, because, you know, whatever.  And in the “Relationship and Intimacy Guide” is a full page devoted to the merits of “open marriages”, which are apparently great for “people who know that they’re in a great relationship”.  It’s all so counter-intuitive.

I know that I am out of step, and profoundly out of sympathy, with the culture on these matters, but even I am surprised to see that it has come to this. Has it really come to this? All the sluttery, the banal fascination with tab A and slot 2B, is served up without any apparent self-consciousness, without a sense of transgression, mixed in with ads for toothpaste and coupons for The Bay.  The final irony is the assumption that this has anything to do with intimacy.

This magazine is going back to The Bay, with a strongly worded letter attached.  In the meantime, couples in search of a real guide to relationships and intimacy could profitably spend some time together in the pages of Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.  That’s what we’re doing.

Archbishop Chaput at National Review

September 23, 2008

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver is a well-known figure to observers of the Church in the United States.  His recently published book Render unto Caesar, about the relationship of politics and religion in western democracies, has been winning praise, and this week National Review is posting a series of interviews with him.  The first, about his recent intervention to correct the faulty catechesis offered by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has been posted here, and as the week progresses the other segments should appear here.  I expect they will be well worth viewing.


September 18, 2008

From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
Jules Verne (Scholastic, 1969)
188 p.  First reading.

From the Earth to the Moon belongs to Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaire series of books, to which his famous stories Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days also belong.

It is an unexpectedly light-hearted and humorous account of a group of American cannon-makers who, disappointed with the sudden cessation of the Civil War, cast about for a worthy enterprise by which to perpetuate their livelihood.  The President of the Baltimore Gun Club hits upon a grand scheme: they will construct an enormous cannon to fire a projectile to the moon!  The breathtaking audacity of the idea fires the imagination of the world, and one optimistic Frenchman even volunteers to ride inside the shot.  They set to work.

I am largely ignorant of the history of science fiction, but I imagine that this story must be one of the earliest examples of the genre.  Unlike some other science fiction novels I have read (there aren’t many), which gloss over whatever science they may contain — sometimes precious little — in order to get to the story, Verne’s story is mostly just a frame on which to hang a series of potted lessons on various scientific topics.  The attentive reader will come away instructed in the niceties of lunar orbits, lunar phases, cosmological history, atmospheric composition, gravitation, structural integrity, escape velocity, explosives, and other judiciously chosen subjects.  They are all written with wit and clarity — though not always, alas, with correctness.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, when read from this distance, is precisely this difference between what Verne knew, or thought he knew, about the world, and what we know, or think we know, about it.  He was writing at a time when electromagnetic theory was still taking shape (Maxwell’s equations were not published until the 1880s) and he leaves that subject largely untouched — imagine trying to send someone to the moon without using any electronics!  He is on solid ground with trajectories and orbits and anything based on Newtonian mechanics, but he overlooks the fact that air resistance would melt his moon-shot before it got very far, and he defends the idea that the moon is habitable, and perhaps inhabited.  Was this respectable scientific speculation at the time?  I don’t know.

At times this interplay between truth and error becomes intricate, as in Verne’s description [appended below] of the evolution of the universe from its “chaotic epoch” to the present.  There are few points at which his description survives unchanged, yet the general picture be paints is close to our current view of the matter — indeed, surprisingly close!  I had thought such theories of cosmic evolution the special possession of post-Big Bang theories of the universe, but clearly I was wrong.  It demonstrates that I should know more than I do about the history of cosmology.

[Cosmology, c.1865]
An observer endued with an infinite range of vision, and placed in that unknown center around which the entire world revolves, might have beheld myriads of atoms filling all space during the chaotic epoch of the universe. Little by little, as ages went on, a change took place; a general law of attraction manifested itself, to which the hitherto errant atoms became obedient: these atoms combined together chemically according to their affinities, formed themselves into molecules, and composed those nebulous masses with which the depths of the heavens are strewed. These masses became immediately endued with a rotary motion around their own central point. This center, formed of indefinite molecules, began to revolve around its own axis during its gradual condensation; then, following the immutable laws of mechanics, in proportion as its bulk diminished by condensation, its rotary motion became accelerated, and these two effects continuing, the result was the formation of one principal star, the center of the nebulous mass.

By attentively watching, the observer would then have perceived the other molecules of the mass, following the example of this central star, become likewise condensed by gradually accelerated rotation, and gravitating round it in the shape of innumerable stars. Thus was formed the Nebulae, of which astronomers have reckoned up nearly 5,000.

Among these 5,000 nebulae there is one which has received the name of the Milky Way, and which contains eighteen millions of stars, each of which has become the center of a solar world.

If the observer had then specially directed his attention to one of the more humble and less brilliant of these stellar bodies, a star of the fourth class, that which is arrogantly called the Sun, all the phenomena to which the formation of the Universe is to be ascribed would have been successively fulfilled before his eyes. In fact, he would have perceived this sun, as yet in the gaseous state, and composed of moving molecules, revolving round its axis in order to accomplish its work of concentration. This motion, faithful to the laws of mechanics, would have been accelerated with the diminution of its volume; and a moment would have arrived when the centrifugal force would have overpowered the centripetal, which causes the molecules all to tend toward the center.

Another phenomenon would now have passed before the observer’s eye, and the molecules situated on the plane of the equator, escaping like a stone from a sling of which the cord had suddenly snapped, would have formed around the sun sundry concentric rings resembling that of Saturn. In their turn, again, these rings of cosmical matter, excited by a rotary motion about the central mass, would have been broken up and decomposed into secondary nebulosities, that is to say, into planets. Similarly he would have observed these planets throw off one or more rings each, which became the origin of the secondary bodies which we call satellites.

Thus, then, advancing from atom to molecule, from molecule to nebulous mass, from that to principal star, from star to sun, from sun to planet, and hence to satellite, we have the whole series of transformations undergone by the heavenly bodies during the first days of the world.

Quaerere Deum

September 16, 2008

On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI completed his apostolic visit to France, and in particular to Lourdes.  I was not able to follow the details of this visit, but last night I did sit down and read the address he delivered in Paris to “the Parisian cultural community”.  The theme of the address was “the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture”, and as it was given at the Collège des Bernardins, founded in the thirteenth century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the Pope naturally began by discussing the role of the monasteries in preserving and cultivating both theology and culture.

He makes the central point that the motivation of the monks was not to make “culture” — it was to seek God.  Quaerere Deum.  In the pursuit of this high purpose they cultivated scholarship and artistry, and Benedict XVI draws particular attention to their concern for word — especially in the Scriptures — and music — especially in the liturgy.  About music he says, in part:

For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine -– in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) –- are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis [. . .] Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty.

This Pope has repeatedly drawn our attention to the higher resonances that we ought to hear in our liturgy and worship, and this is another excellent instance.  The liturgy should always strive to be a “reaching up”, a transcendence, a participation in the heavenly liturgy.  It will often fail to reach those heights, of course, but it needn’t fail so frequently as it does, and we certainly ought not to be content in the “zone of dissimilarity”.

This is but one small passage of a very rich and stimulating address. Read the whole thing.

World’s most inappropriate album cover

September 15, 2008

Sunday night Pergolesi

September 14, 2008

Where to begin? Today being the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, tomorrow that of Our Lady of Sorrows, and this week Benedict XVI on pilgrimage to mark the 150th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions, I’m not sure where to focus.  Here’s something that brings them all together, or tries to: the first stanza of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  Baroque composers were not always good at dolour, but in this opening section Pergolesi succeeds pretty well:

Stabat mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

[The grieving Mother stood
beside the cross weeping
where her Son was hanging.]

The singers are Andreas Scholl and Barbara Bonney (Duration: about 4 min.).