Happy birthday, Sara

August 8, 2019

In honor of the birthday of American poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), here is a choral setting by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds of her poem “Only in Sleep.”

Only in sleep I see their faces,
Children I played with when I was a child,
Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,
Annie with ringlets warm and wild.

Only in sleep Time is forgotten—
What may have come to them, who can know?
Yet we played last night as long ago,
And the doll house stood at the turn of the stair.

The years had not sharpened their smooth round faces,
I met their eyes and found them mild—
Do they, too, dream of me, I wonder,
And for them am I too a child?


Happy birthday, Alfred

August 6, 2019

Alfred Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire on August 6, 1809. Although he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a poet, the path was never easy for him. Throughout much of his life he was plagued with poor health, and he was dogged by financial difficulties, exacerbated by his penchant for making bad investments with what little money he had. He was approaching middle age before he began to achieve success as a poet.

Tennyson’s better-known works include Idylls of the King, a retelling of the Arthurian legend; “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” about a British cavalry charge against Russian forces during the Crimean War; and the book-length poem In Memoriam A.H.H., which Tennyson composed over a period of seventeen years following the death of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam.

“Crossing the Bar” was not the last poem that Tennyson wrote, but it’s usually the final entry in every collection of his poetry, in accordance with his express wish. Unlike In Memoriam, in which Tennyson explores in detail his grief, anguish, and crisis of faith after the death of his dearest friend, “Crossing the Bar” is short and succinct: a calm acceptance of his own approaching death, combined with the hope that when it arrives, he will meet his pilot face to face.

Here is “Crossing the Bar” set to music by Rani Arbo, sung by The Jones Family. This track is from their CD “From Earth to Heaven.”

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.


Happy birthday, Percy

August 4, 2019

In honor of the birthday of English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), here is Eric Nelson’s choral setting of “Music, When Soft Voices Die,” sung by the Atlanta Master Chorale with the composer conducting.

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.


Happy birthday, Emily

July 30, 2019

It’s the birthday of Emily Brontë (1818-1848), who is remembered — when she’s remembered at all — as the author of Wuthering Heights, her only novel. Not many know that she was also one of the finest English poets of the nineteenth century. Here is a choral setting by Ola Gjeilo of one of her poems.

When days of beauty deck the earth
Or stormy nights descend
How well my spirit knows the path
On which it ought to wend

It seeks the consecrated spot
Beloved in childhood’s years
The space between is all forgot
Its sufferings and its tears.


Happy birthday, William

June 13, 2019

In honor of the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), here is Z. Randall Stroope’s choral setting of Yeat’s poem “The Cloths of Heaven.”

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Happy May Day

May 1, 2018

It was the first of May
A lovely warm spring day
I was strolling down the street in drunken pride;
But my knees were all a-flutter,
And I landed in the gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

Yes, I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I could not utter
When a lady passing by did softly say:
“You can tell a man who boozes
By the company he chooses” —

And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

(Author unknown)


Give us pleasure in the flowers today

March 26, 2018

It’s the birthday of English poet Alfred Edward Housman, born in 1859, and American poet Robert Frost, born in 1874. In addition to sharing a birthday, they also share the distinction of having written some exceptionally lovely poems about springtime, and heaven knows we could use a little spring right about now.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

— A. E. Houseman (1859-1936)

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

— Robert Frost (1874-1963)

It’s also the anniversary of the arrival in Washington, DC of three thousand Japanese cherry trees — a gift from the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki — in 1912. First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two of the trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912. The rest of the trees were eventually planted around the Tidal Basin and in other parts of the city. The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 1935, and it became an annual event that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

Many of Tokyo’s cherry trees were destroyed in allied bombing raids during World War II. After the war ended, cuttings were taken from the Japanese cherry trees in Washington and sent to Tokyo to replace the trees that had been lost.


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