“We Have Given Our Hearts Away”

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Columnist

In one of Jan Karon’s delightful “Mitford” books, the winsome Episcopal
priest Father Tim Cavanaugh shares with his dear old organist some lines
from the sonnet (1807) by Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

I admit it: the English major under my hat has always felt a bit (make
that, a lot) deficient with regard to poetry. I love Father Tim, but the
good rector is not only a far better pastor than am I, he has a far better
grasp on poetry! But if I understand Wordsworth’s lines at all, I think
he’s right on target.

The “world” is far too much “with us.”

“Getting and spending” occupy far too much of our precious time.

Forgetting that the real “bottom line” of our lives has nothing at all to
do with the bottom line of any balance sheet, we hurry and scurry and
worry our way through life, and barely pause to really “see” nature or,
for that matter, beauty of any kind, at all, and hardly notice that our
hearts are slowly becoming sadly atrophied from disuse.

Ah, but we produce!

Yes, but I’ve yet to see a balance sheet nailed to a tombstone.

Last week I read an interesting article from the Washington Post (“Pearls
Before Breakfast,” 4/8/07; it was on their web site) written by Gene
Weingarten who tried an interesting experiment with the invaluable aid of
Joshua Bell, arguably the best classical violinist in the world.

At 7:51 on a Friday morning, the 39-year-old Bell stood by a trash can at
the Metro subway stop at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C., and played
his violin for 43 minutes as a street musician. Tickets to hear this
“street musician” routinely fetch three figures. And, by the way, this
“street musician” was playing a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin.

The whole thing was videoed. As Joshua Bell played three of the most
beautiful violin pieces ever written, sixty-three people walked by before
one sort of slowed his pace. Before it was over, of the 1,097 people who
hurried by, 27 people, barely slowing down, threw $37.13 into his violin
case. Seven stopped for just a minute to listen, but there was never a
crowd. A few children wanted to stop, but their parents were far too

Many of those who get off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza are government
workers rushing off to crunch numbers and catalog regulations. Bureaucrats
and bean counters rarely have time for beauty. But I’m afraid those of us
whose lives they complicate have exactly the same disease.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!