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No, this is not a belated tribute to Valentine’s Day. (I did, in fact, deliver my card and flowers on time. Thanks for asking.) Rather, for Detroit Tiger fans these words must call to mind their once and greatest broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, ritually opening his call of the first game of spring training by reciting the middle two verses from the passage in which our title words twice appear, Song of Solomon 2:10-13.
10 My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
11 For, lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone;
12 the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
13 the fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Those middle two verses are a tonic every year in the slow second half of a Michigan winter—this year as seldom before. The vision of green grass, the warmth of the sun, the promise of a long summer strung like beads along the wire of a 162-game season. A season that allows, expects, suffering (the very best of major-league teams will lose one third of their games) but that persists anyway in the hope of yet another tomorrow and the possible joys attending thereunto. The ritual repetition this year of last year, and of seasons forty, fifty years ago. Memories of family outings, rare bonding with Greatest-Generation dads. We’ve heard all the explanations before and know they are true, but savor hearing them again, because they are true as few other things are.
But what’s love—the romantic sort named in our passage—got to do with it? Ernie left off the first and last verses not because he knew naught of the subject; he and his delightfully named wife Lulu enjoyed 68 years together and produced four children. But the opening game of spring training falls some two weeks after camp itself opens. The coincidence this year of the latter falling on Valentine’s Day is enough to warrant reciting the whole passage. As Ernie always remarked of a double play, “Two for the price of one!”
Two, or three. For me the verses appeared last weekend in a most unexpected place—listening to an exquisite performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. Vespers to the blessed and perpetual Virgin, be it added, not to the image of the queen of Sheba panting for her lover till she is comforted with apples. Nonetheless, all of a sudden, there it was:
Nigra sum sed formosa, filiae Jerusalem.
Ideo dilexit me rex
et introduxit me in cubiculum suum
et dixit mihi: “Surge, amica mea, et veni.
Iam hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit.
Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra,
tempus putationis advenit.”
Our daughter-in-law the Presbyterian pastor tells me that Song of Songs was the single most commented-upon book in the Bible during the Middle Ages (this upon my puzzlement that she had been assigned another of its passages for an ordination sermons). No doubt because it was an allegory of Christ and his Church and all that. Funny that my Christian school teachers agreed with Rome on that one. It sure wasn’t about earthly, carnal love, they didn’t have to add. Good thing too since “carnal” was not in their classroom vocabulary.
To be sure, the rites of spring can get out of hand, not least in warm latitudes where collegians gather for their spring rut. But a hint and a promise in the deep mid-winter certainly give comfort to the ice-battened body and ice-battered soul. And so let a glass be lifted to this year’s divine coincidence of Valentine’s Day and the boys of summer breaking out their cleats. Two for the price of one, indeed. Ernie, meet Claudio. Thanks guys.
Sigh…For you younguns, Ernie Harwell was a decent broadcaster, but could not compare to his predecessor as a Tiger broadcaster–of course I speak of the great Harry Heilmann, who played for the Tigers from 1914 to 1929, hit 403 one year and is in the Hall of Fame. He worked alone, had an elegant baritone, and I will never forget his lament when Art Houteman missed a 20-game season by a single out.