By Brian Liu
“Sicut Cervus” is a piece we learn here that has become our unofficial school anthem in Annapolis. It is a motet written by Palestrina, a composer who was known for his polyphonic style.
The title comes from the first verse of the 42nd Psalm:
“As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirst for you, O God.”
I have wondered why it has become so beloved at our school. While some may say that it is loved so much simply because it sounds beautiful, I would suggest perhaps a deeper reason. The theme of the piece is man’s yearning for God. And though St. John’s is a secular institution, that longing – the longing for something more transcendent than ourselves and our longing for communion with it – is the spirit of our institution. It is the spirit of our educational endeavor. We like to think of ourselves as working towards something higher when we read, write and discuss our texts. The academic setting is just a curtain in front of what is really happening: adults, young and old, seeking what John Keat’s coined as a unity, in his famous poem:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is allYe know on earth, and all ye need to know.”*
* Taken from the poem: Ode on a Grecian Urn