Advent Calendar Day 19 – The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation (Purcell)

We’re getting frighteningly close to Christmas, given how much I still have to do. And today’s Advent Carol is like the Holy Roman Empire, really – not a carol, and not about advent (which is particularly cheeky, since I’ve got some perfectly good carols on my list that there won’t be time for). It isn’t a carol because don’t think it was ever intended to be sung in church, but was rather intended as chamber music. And it isn’t Adventy, because even though it’s all about Mary, the lyrics suggest that this is either the episode with Jesus (like sheep) going astray at the Temple, or more probably during the Flight into Egypt, with toddler-Jesus gone (like sheep) astray in the wilderness.

(sorry about the sheep)

The trouble is, though, that I was trying to find Advent music by Purcell, and one of the terms I used was ‘Purcell Virgin Mary’. And then I saw this piece of music and it had ‘Expostulation’ in the title, which I think you will agree made it something I really had to listen to. How many songs have ‘Expostulation’ in the title? What if it had ‘expostulation’ in the lyrics and I never knew about it?

You see my problem. And then I listened to it, and not only is it entirely and utterly beautiful, but Christine Brandes, the soprano who sings this version, is just about perfect. And… I’ve never heard a song before that is truly from the point of view of Mary as a person (the Magnificat is gorgeous, but doesn’t give you that much of a sense of her personality) (Edited in December 2017 – Oh, younger Catherine, what were you thinking?  It totally does.  But this is not a theology blog, so I’m not going to wax lyrical on the subject here today.). And even though the words were unseasonal, I really liked them.

Anyway, faced with a choice of this beautiful recording, and one of the various ‘I Sing of a Maiden’s, none of which were quite perfect enough for me, the decision was easy.

No embedding, because the site won’t allow it, but follow the link to find something gorgeous.

The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation – Henry Purcell

Lyrics below:
Tell me, tell me some, some pitying angel,
Tell quickly, quickly, quickly say,
Where, where does my soul’s sweet darling stray,
In tiger’s or more cruel, more cruel cruel Herod’s way?
Ah, ah rather, rather let his little, little footsteps press
Unregarded through the wilderness,
Where milder, milder, where milder savages resort,
The desert’s safer, the desert’s safer than a tyrant’s court.
Why, why, fairest object of my love,
Why, why dost thou from my longing eyes remove?
Was it, was it a waking dream that did fortell thy wondrous birth,
Thy wondrous, wondrous birth?
No vision, no, no vision from above?
Where’s Gabriel, where’s Gabriel now that visited my cell?
I call, I call, I call: Gabriel! Gabriel!
He comes not.
Flatt’ring, flatt’ring hopes, farewell flatt’ring hopes, farewell.
Me Judah’s daughters once caress’d,
Call’d me of mothers the most, the most bless’d.
Now fatal change, of mothers most distress’d.
How, how shall my soul its motions guide?
How, how shall I stem the various, various tide,
Whilst faith and doubt my lab’ring soul divide?
For whilst of thy dear, dear sight beguil’d,
I trust the God, but oh! I fear, but oh! I fear the child.

Admit it, you would have made the same decision.

Edited in December 2017: I’d forgotten I found this piece while looking for Advent Carols.  I actually wound up singing it myself for an exam a few years ago.  And that video, I am allowed to embed, so here it is.

<p><a href=”″>The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Heloise</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a>.</p>

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