Choose

 

 

Choose - (2009)    

Carl Sandburg

for medium voice and piano


 

     The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
                 Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.

[ 1 page, circa 2' 10" ]


Carl Sandburg

 

This short musing is drawn from Sandburg's 1916 collection, Chicago Poems. The tumultuousness of such a decision -- between force and diplomacy, between the fist and the open hand -- is the lot of mankind, contentious, often corrupt, self-serving and too frequently brutal in the pursuit of power, control and wealth. One notes that unlike the pacifist-painted stance of "war in not the answer," Sandburg does not suggest one alternative over the other, but only reinforces the truth that at all times and in all instances we have been, are and will be confronted to "choose." Sometimes, the "clenched fist" is an appropriate response, and sometimes -- and we hope, often -- the "open asking hand" is the better alternative.

 

This image is found throughout literature from many cultures; among them there are two Yiddish proverbs in which the infant's grasping hand and fist are contrasted with the corpse's still, open hands. These two proverbs come to opposite conclusions. One suggests the fist is a signal that one must fight one's way through life while the open hand is a sign that there is nothing more to be grasped and held. Its opposite suggests that the fist is a sign of holding on to the possibilities -- the choices -- of life in all its vitality, while the open hand is evidence that no longer do such choices matter. Whether in matters of interpretation or life philosophy, it comes to the same thing: choose.

 

One notes the elegance and ease with which poetry addresses such a great and central question of life, while the wordiness of politics and opinion obscures the ever-and-always choice which cannot long be obscured.

 

 

The setting turns its back on a possible portrayal of tumult, and opens with a comparatively lengthy prelude which becomes the accompaniment to the vocal line to come. The upper and lower neighbors move into dissonance and resolution by varying rhythmic durations, a nod to the choices, large and small, which one must make in choosing the fist or open hand, but over all is a sense of calm, for the choices remain and will ever be unresolved until the end of time, for us individually, for nations, as for the world itself.

 

 

 

 

The score for Choose is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.

 

Choose