If Love Be All - (2009)
for medium or high voice and piano
If death be good,
Why do the gods not die?
If life be ill,
the gods still live?
If love be naught,
Why do the gods still
If love be all,
What should men do but love?
Love is so
strong a thing,
The very gods must yield,
When it is welded fast
With the unflinching truth.
Love is so frail a thing,
A word, a
look, will kill.
Oh lovers, have a care
How ye do deal with love.
[ 3 pages, circa 3' 30" ]
Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, poet, editor and literary
journalist Bliss Carman (1861-1929) studied at the University of New
Brunswick and Harvard (1886-88), thereafter remaining in the United States
after 1909 while continuing to work collecting Canadian poetry. He was
corresponding member of the Royal Society of Canada and published over fifty
volumes of poetry. Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics (Boston: L. C. Page,
1903) is an imagined volume of what the poetess Sappho may have
As he wrote in the Introduction, "Fortunately for us, however, two
small but incomparable odes and a few scintillating fragments have survived,
quoted and handed down in the eulogies of critics and expositors. In these
the wisest minds, the greatest poets, and the most inspired teachers of
modern days have found justification for the unanimous verdict of antiquity.
The tributes of Addison, Tennyson, and others, the throbbing paraphrases and
ecstatic interpretations of Swinburne, are too well known to call for
special comment in this brief note; but the concise summing up of her genius
by Mr. Watts-Dunton in his remarkable essay on poetry is so convincing and
illuminating that it seems to demand quotation here: "Never before these
songs were sung, and never since did the human soul, in the grip of a fiery
passion, utter a cry like hers; and, from the executive point of view, in
directness, in lucidity, in that high, imperious verbal economy which only
nature can teach the artist, she has no equal, and none worthy to take the
place of second."
"The poems of Sappho so mysteriously lost to us
seem to have consisted of at least nine books of odes, together with
epithalamia, epigrams, elegies, and monodies." The composite text above
is taken from two lyrics, each of eight lines, If death be good
(LXXIV) and Love is so strong a thing (LXXXVI).
A musical metaphor for the centrality of love in life is the pedal A flat
(and its enharmonic G sharp) which remains throughout the setting. Around
this "constancy," a series of four note chords in extended spellings in both
major and minor underscore the verses. The seemingly brighter major chords
accompany the first verse and its final reprise in an overall AABA form.
The four-note minor chords accompany the second eight lines (the second
lyric), as the vocal line rises and falls to the emphasis of the texts.
The score for If Love Be All 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.
If Love Be All