Whilst the lyrics from a number of the songs are written by me, just as many are drawn from literary sources. Below are some of those lyrics. I’ve added, where I feel inspired to do so, a little additional background information.
(From the 2009 E.P (‘extended play’!) UP FROM THE UNDERWORLD | Listen Here )
The setting of Roger’s poem, Captivity, seems to be something from the mysterious landscape of fairytale or myth, and from the start the mood is disconcerting and dark. Somebody is ‘caged in old woods’, and soon we learn of how she yearns to be free.
Alarmingly, we also discover that the gaoler is, in fact, her childhood nurse; one who can be persuaded neither by gold ‘nor by tears’!
The verse ends with a renewed focus on the setting; the ‘terraced walls’ of her place of capitivity (a castle or tower of some kind, perhaps) throw out only dark reflections onto the unresponsive waters below.
Caged in old woods whose reverend echoes wake
When the hern cries across the distant lake
Her little heart oft flutters to be free
Oft sighs to turn the unrelenting key.
In vain the nurse the rustic relic wears
Nor moved by gold, nor moved by tears.
And terraced walls their black reflections throw
On the green-mantled lake below.
Samuel Rogers, 1763 – 1855
Take Him, Earth, for cherishing…
(From the E.P UP FROM THE UNDERWORLD | Listen Here )
Much of the poem is explicitly Christian, but in its address to earth in her form of mother, strains of the older pagan feeling for the divine as a feminine force may be sensed and heard.
The words below are those which I use in my own brief musical setting, but they are just a portion of the original whole.
Take him, Earth for cherishing
To thy tender breast receive him
Body of a man I bring thee
Noble even in its ruin
Once was this a spirit dwelling
By the breath of God created…
Prudentius (AD 348-413),
from Hymnus circa Exsequias Defuncti,
translated by H. Waddell
The South Wind Roars
(From the 2010 E.P THIS WORLD’S DELIGHT | Listen Here )
In the early novel Gertrude, the protagonist, a composer, reaches a state of emotional deadlock within himself.
The woman for whom he has a long-standing, but unrequieted, love has become engaged to another. For some time the protagonist retreats into a world of protective numbness.
A collegue sends the composer some new lyrics and with their arrival, the old feelings of loss & longing resurface unbidden. With the old feelings alive once more, the composer sets the lyrics to music.
The south wind roars at night
Curlews hasten in their flight…
Desire to sleep has vanished now
Spring has arrived in the night…
I too, at night no longer sleep
My heart feels young and strong
Memory takes me by the hand
To peak again at days or joy and song
But frightened at so bold a deed
It does not linger
Be still my heart
Away with pain
Though passion stirs again
In blood that now flows slowly
And leads to paths once known
These paths you tread in vain
For youth has flown
Herman Hesse (1877-1962),
from the novel ‘Gertrude’.
The Arc of Your Mallet
(From the 2011 E.P THE TAWNY SANDS | Listen Here )
The Near East has a strong poetic tradition of using the language and conventions of love poetry to express certain difficult-to-express feelings of longing for Life or the Divine. The Arc of Your Mallet, by the renowned Jalal ad-Din Mohammed Rumi, is no exception. His poem addresses itself to a particular person that Rumi came to know, (who worked, I believe, as a goldsmith, hence the reference to a mallet). But the language used is so extravagent that we sense Rumi has in mind also (and perhaps primarily) that greater Beloved that stands in and beyond all our particular and transient loves.
Sections from this verse, sometimes just single lines or phrases, appear throughout my music. Perhaps the most straightforward of my treatments of The Arc of Your Mallet comes in the song of the same title (from the fourth EP TAWNY SANDS); but some of the lyrics reappear in Without You (from the second EP ANAMNESIS ), Stay With Us Now and even in the first two words of We Sit Down. In this way thematic links are established between EPs.
To take a different example of this thematic continuity, ideas of imprisonment & powerlessness, established in the lyrics of Captivity (first EP, UP FROM THE UNDERWORLD), are explored further in To be Free (from the fifth EP, A VISION), but here a sense of hope, even sweetness, enters the picture.
Similarly, the motif of flight and ascension which is established in UP FROM THE UNDERWORLD (for example, the heart that ‘flutters to be free’ in Captivity, and the beauty of the gull’s flight in Whispering Seas) continues in A VISION, (in the lines from To be Free, ‘to take wings and fly…’), and are then given special emphasis in the references to Plato in the ANAMNESIS EP: ’he is like a bird fluttering and careless of the world…’
The way the night knows itself with the moon
Be that with me
Be the rose nearest to the thorn that I am
I want to be with you when you take food
In the arc of your mallet when you work…
Jalal ad-Din Mohammed Rumi (1207-1273), in Coleman Barks’ Open Secret
(From the E.P THIS WORLD’S DELIGHT | Listen Here )
The flower that smiles today
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
What is this world’s delight?
Lightening that mocks the night
Brief even as bright
Virtue, how frail it is
Friendship how rare
Love, how it sells poor bliss
For proud despair
But we, though soon they fall
Survive their joy, and all
Which ours we call
Whilst skies are blue and bright
Whilst flowers are gay
Whilst eyes that change ere night
Make glad the day
Whilst yet the calm hours creep
Dream thou – and from thy sleep
Then wake to weep.
-Percy Byshe Shelley (1792- 1822)
The Boat is Chafing
(From the E.P THE TAWNY SANDS | Listen Here )
The boat is chafing at our long delay
And we must leave to soon
The spicy sea-pinks and the inborn spray
The tawny sands, the moon
Keep us, O Thetis, in our western flight
Watch from thy pearly throne
Our vessel, plunging deeper into night
To reach a land unknown.
- John Davies (1857-1909)
from the play ‘Scaramouch in Naxos’.
We Sit Down
(From the E.P THE TAWNY SANDS | Listen Here )
Nor green earth
We sit down in tears
In the final movement of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Bach chose for his text a poem by Christian Friedrich Henrici. One translation reads:
We sit down in tears and call to you in the grave
Rest softly, softly rest! Rest, you exhausted limbs
Rest softly, rest well
Your grave and tombstone should be a comfortably soft pillow for those with troubled conscience
And for the soul a resting place
My eyes are closed in sleep, in highest satisfaction.
To Be Free
(from the 2011 E.P A VISION Listen Here)
To Be Free harks back to the lyrics used in Captivity (see top of page), but whereas that song includes the entirety of Samuel Rogers’ poem, To be Free takes just two lines as its starting point and then seems to find its own new, and ultimately more hopeful, path:
Her little heart oft flutters to be free
Oft sighs to turn the unrelenting key
Her heart longs now
Her heart it longs…it longs now
Cry, burn, whisper, sigh
She cries and yearns, whispers, sighs
To be free, to be free
To take wings and rise
To take wings and fly
To be free
A Vision Within… and A Vision Beyond
(From the 2011 E.P A VISION Listen Here)
A Vision Within and A Vision Beyond, the songs that begin and end the EP, are in fact the same song but with radically different treatments. The words remain more or less the same (though additional phrases appear in the latter), but tempo, key, instrumentation and structure stand in marked contrast.
The music tries to express, in ‘introverted’ and ‘extroverted’ moods, a vision or hypnagogic hallucination I experienced whilst listening to someone performing on a rare mono-chord stringed instrument. (Perhaps someone will remind me of its name…) A landscape of precipices, mist and intense light opened before me. It’s beauty was very great, and I remember it to this day.
Somewhere in places beyond
Lies my home
The cliffs rise in shadowy darkness
And on the peaks the light plays
I am pierced by this memory
(Warmth of dark blood
Yearn for this melody
O yearn for this memory)
The Seas are Quiet
(From the 2011 E.P THE THRESHOLD OF THE NEW. Listen Here)
The seventeenth century English poet and politician, Edmund Waller, provides the lyrics for this Benjamin Brelain interpretation of The Seas Are Quiet. By the time of writing, Waller was already an old man. His life was not without incident (or, as the poem put it, ‘passion’). At the age of eighteen he entered parliament and in later years became, in addition, a notable poet. His poetry was set to music by one or two leading composers of the time. In the1640s he was accused of treason and threatened, as was the tendency in those brutal times, with being hung, drawn and quartered. He escaped this fate but was financially ruined and exiled to France. In his early seventies, his wife, some fifteen years his junior, died and he retreated (and bought back) the property where he had been born. As I understand it, it was in this moment that he wrote his meditation on life and the hear-after.
THE seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;
So calm are we when passions are no more.
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness which age descries.
The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,
Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view
That stand upon the threshold of the new.
- Edmund Waller