Monthly Archives: January 2015

Acappella Friday – Music in Poetry: Sure on this shining night

Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, consonance, assonance, timbre, and tone mean so much to both choral music and poetry. Perhaps that is why, when good poetry is combined with a beautiful musical foundation, the result can be an emotional and spiritual adjuvant. It soothes the soul. There is no doubt that there is music in poetry/poetry in music.

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Once again I have been affected by a poem/choral arrangement that is not a cappella. Thus, I have renamed this feature Music in Poetry.

James Agee (1909-1955) was born in Knoxville, TN. His father died when James was only six, and his mother sent James and his younger sister to boarding schools. He was educated in Episcopal Boys Schools, ultimately graduating from Harvard in 1932. He worked as a freelance writer for most of his short life. He was a journalist, novelist, film critic, and screenwriter. He was a well-respected film critic in the 1940s and wrote screenplays for The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). His book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) detailed the conditions of sharecropper families in the Depression era Deep South. Agee was also a poet. He published one volume of poetry in 1934, entitled Permit me Voyage, which contained the poem Sure on this Shining Night.

Sure on this shining night*
by James Agee

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.

*from Permit me Voyage published 1934 by Yale University

The poem itself is simple and hopeful. There is no doubt that Agee’s religious upbringing and education had instilled a faith in him, yet a loneliness pervades this poem. Perhaps due to the loss of his father at an early age and being sent to boarding schools away from family, the middle four lines

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.

indicate times when things are good, implying the typical holiday and family times of the year in the late year and the high summer. It is interesting use of the phrasing “all is healed, all is health” which follows the phrasing of the Christmas carol Silent Night, and has as it’s message, heavenly peace.

Other times are spent wandering and wondering, hopeful for Kindness to watch over him.

It is a strong emotional poem and is made musical on its own merit, through consonance with repeating sh-, sure and shining, l- late and lies, and h- healed, health, hearts, and whole. Lyrically, all very pleasing and comforting sounds.

In 1938 Samuel Barber wrote a musical setting of Sure on this shining night as a vocal solo (and later as a choral setting). The piano accompaniment evokes some of the emotional loneliness, and the solo performance by Cheryl Studer (soprano) captures the ache of lonely wonder/wander -ing. I like Barber’s choral arrangement (and have sung it), but this solo art song version is very beautifully done.

Sure on this shining night, music by Samuel Barber, published by G. Schirmer, Inc.

Rather than link to Barber’s choral arrangement, I found a different version of the song written in 2005 with music by Morten Lauridsen, a contemporary American composer. Lauridsen manages to bring the contemplative nature of the poem out in a subdued melody line that just seems to breath a life of its own. The performance by the Vox Humana Choral Ensemble is stunning.

Sure on this shining night, music by Morten Lauridsen, published by Peermusic Classical.

Both versions of the song do credit to James Agee’s poem.

What’s on the horizon?

I’ve always liked horizons.

They hold a lot of picturesque beauty. Whether it’s a mountain range, a sunset on the plains, the moon rising over a cityscape, a thunderstorm over the ocean…you get the picture. And that’s it, isn’t it? The picture – the still life of what is most beautiful in our day or on our journey, the horizon is a promise of something good. We wonder what is there, and how long it will take us to arrive.

I went for a walk one afternoon this past week. The weather was reasonable (for January) and I felt a bit of cabin fever, so I set out on a quick walk on the bike path that weaves through our township. I noticed as I was walking, that my head was always down, looking at the ground just ahead of my step. This was out of necessity, as the winter condition of the path is not good – it’s muddy, and there is a lot of goose poop. We are on the migratory pattern of a multigenerational gaggle and they make a huge mess along the common areas in my neighborhood. Anyway – with my head down- I couldn’t really tell where I was going, I was only focused on where my next step would fall. I trusted that I knew where I was going and I would end up back at my house. But the truth is, if I never looked at the horizon to get a bearing on where I was, or where I was going, I could have ended up in Pennsylvania (it might have taken 2 or 3 days, and I would be incredibly stubborn for not ever getting a reality check on my location).

There is something of a life lesson in this. While going through our daily routine, we tend to focus on the details and tasks – the places where our feet fall to avoid the goose turds and the mud puddles. If we never look up to see a horizon – to view where we want to go and give vision to a dream- some day we’ll stop and look around and realize we have no idea how we got to where we are. There is no memory of places along the way, only memories of steps and missteps, avoiding puddles, and hopping over fresh goose-shit.

I am vowing to look up more at the horizon and to enjoy the view. I might end up with a little more mud on my shoes, but the view will be worth it.

Do you stop to look at the horizon, or are you always trying to avoid the goose-poop?

Bavarian Alps, Germany May 2014

Bavarian Alps, Germany, May 2014

Snippets, newly minted

The new year is rambling on…

Writing
I mentioned a while back that I had submitted a poem that was accepted for an online publication. It is posted here, in The Front Porch Review, or at the link Periodicity under Published Work, down at the lower right of the menu bar. I am fond of this poem, as it captures some actual experiences of my life, and rolls some of the meaning into life’s cyclic nature. There are some other excellent poems in that issue, I invite you to give it a read. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.

I’ve started off the new year writing (attempting to write) some flash fiction pieces. I may share something here soon, but I’m also contemplating moving/reorganizing my blog site to accommodate things differently.

Music
After bingeing on holiday/Christmas music since mid-November, I have been cleansing my musical palette with “oldies.” That’s such a relative term, isn’t it? One generation’s oldies are not the next. When I say oldies, I mean 50’s and 60’s jukebox tunes. Doo-wop and British invasion songs are peppy enough to gloss over the general ‘suckiness’ of January weather. I don’t mind the snow…but the bitter cold. What do you listen to on a winter day?

Some random statistics
Since my unemployment began, I’ve applied for approximately 125 positions, mostly through internet application processes. I’ve gone through 12 phone interview processes (with different companies) resulting in 1 onsite interview. That means almost a 10 % conversion from application to phone interview, and only about 8 % of those result in a site interview. This gives a whopping 0.8% likelihood of a job interview based on internet applications – I think. This is biased due to my specific area of expertise and experience level, but it demonstrates the level of difficulty in finding the right job. Sorry about the math…I have to keep my skills up.

Reading
I wish I could say that I did a lot of reading over the last part of 2014 and the Christmas holiday…but I didn’t. I’m still nursing Philip Kerr’s novel Dark Matter:The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton– A Holmes-esque mystery novel during the time when Newton was Warden of the Royal Mint. I’ve read some interesting journal articles about anthocyanins that I mentioned in a post a while ago in December. And, my MIL gave me three Jack Higgins novels to read…which I am excited about. I read The Eagle has Landed when I was in high school and really liked it. Also, I dusted off my copy of The Silmarillion (after seeing the third and final Hobbit film), and leisurely read a few sections to try and jump start my interest in the book…sigh…the names.

Thanks for visiting and reading.

Sleeper

Show me your heavy eyes.

Between each field’sĀ border,
the ground takes on shadows
as the sun begrudges
being dragged west
drifting in a transmuted
grey.

Let me hear you breatheĀ a landscape

with hills barely hiding the
clapboard buildings and
lonely trees of the next homestead.

Embrace me
into your dream,
immobile among the passing scenes,
drawn into deeper sleep.