A Fascicle of Songs: Four poems of Robert Louis Stevenson for unaccompanied voice (2018) c. 10 mins

Dedicated to Alison Beck

  1. Dedication
  2. Romance
  3. Bury Me Low
  4. Requiem

Settings for unaccompanied voice are relatively rare, but as the melodies for the songs in this cycle began to sing themselves in my head I had vivid flashbacks to a time when I watched a television chat show more than 30 years ago in which the incomparable Janet Baker had sung an unaccompanied rendition of Bushes and Briars and what a magical experience it had been. I hoped to create an opportunity for other singers to create such magic.

One of the poems I have set, Requiem, is one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) most famous, yet it is also one of the most often misquoted, with a spurious ‘the’ inserted into the line, “Home is the sailor, home from (the) sea.”

As I was researching the poem before embarking on this cycle I discovered, also, that it is most regularly included in anthologies in a truncated form of two verses. In the original manuscript there is a third verse placed between the two familiar ones. In my setting of the poem I have, in a sense, set the poem twice: once in its two verse form, and, then again, in its three verse form. The setting is structured in such a way that it can be sung in a shortened form, ending at the double bar after the two verse setting. My hope, though, is that it will be sung in full.

Patrick Jonathan, 20/1/2018

The Poems

Dedication

My first gift and my last, to you

I dedicate this fascicle of songs –

The only wealth I have:

Just as they are, to you.

I speak the truth in soberness, and say

I had rather bring a light to your clear eyes,

Had rather hear you praise

This bosomful of songs

Than that the whole, hard world with one consent,

In one continuous chorus of applause

Poured forth for me and mine

The homage of ripe praise.

I write the finis here against my love,

This is my love’s last epitaph and tomb.

Here the road forks, and I

Go my way, far from yours.

Romance

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight

Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.

I will make a palace fit for you and me,

Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,

Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,

And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white

In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,

The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!

That only I remember, that only you admire,

Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.

Bury Me Low

Now when the number of my years

Is all fulfilled, and I

From sedentary life

Shall rouse me up to die,

Bury me low and let me lie

Under the wide and starry sky.

Joying to live, I joyed to die,

Bury me low and let me lie.

Clear was my soul, my deeds were free,

Honour was called my name,

I fell not back from fear

Nor followed after frame.

Bury me low and let me lie

Under the wide and starry sky.

Joying to live, I joyed to die,

Bury me low and let me lie.

Bury me low in valleys green

And where the milder breeze

Blows fresh along the stream,

Sings roundly in the trees –

Bury me low and let me lie

Under the wide and starry sky.

Joying to live, I joyed to die,

Bury me low and let me lie.

Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die

And I laid me down with a will.

Here may the winds about me blow;

Here the clouds may come and go;

Here shall be rest for evermo’

And the heart for aye shall be still.

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be:

Here is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

1 Front Cover