Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd.
for medium voice and piano
And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the
sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not
the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him
'Twas not from sickness' shots.
No whooping-cough did
rack his frame,
Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired
the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck
not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world
By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
realms of the good and great.
[ 5 pages, circa 2' 40" ]
The above historic photograph, cropped for the purposes of this web page, is
from 1905, a negative of gelatin on nitrocellulose roll film. Samuel
Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), wrote under the pseudonym or "pen name" of
Mark Twain. He was an American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer.
Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
which has since been called the "Great American Novel," and The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer which drew on his youth in Hannibal, Missouri.
Twain is also known for his quotations. During his lifetime, Clemens became
a friend to presidents, artists, leading industrialists, and European
royalty. He enjoyed immense public popularity, and his keen wit and incisive
satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. American author
William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature." Mark
Twain’s first important work, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras
County, was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November
Mark Twain's pseudonym comes from his experience as a steamboat pilot on the
Mississippi, wherein depths were "marked" as they were with sailing ships,
by dropping a line to the bottom and calling out the crucial measure to the
Mark Twain's parody is of that form of obituary poetry which was popular in
the late nineteenth century. Twain's fictional character, Huckleberry Finn,
tells of an obituary poem by the deceased Emmeline Grangerford (who dies
before her fourteenth birthday according to the author) and as printed in
the Presbyterian Observer.
"Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn't ever have to
stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn't find
anything to rhyme with it she would just scratch it out and slap down
another one, and go ahead. She warn't particular, she could write about
anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful. Every
time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand
withher `tribute' before he was cold. She called them tributes. The
neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the
undertaker--the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then
she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person's name, which was Whistler. She
warn't ever the same, after that; she never complained, but she kind of
pined away and did not live long."
The setting of this poem-parody nonetheless deals with death, and the
ignominious death of "falling down a well" gives grief to those who love
Stephen. Therefore, with the advice given by composer and conductor Don Ray
(CBS Studio City and COTA Symphony in Los Angeles) that every character
needs a "requiem," the setting is meant to be both silly and serious.
A reminiscence of a clanging bell announces this "obituary." What follows is
light-hearted in spirit and in waltz time and tempo.
The mourners are represented by a change in the brighter feeling of a major
tonality, and with a shift in the metrical feet, if only for a moment,
before a return to the story telling by way of negative images coming first.
The mundane death is set up by a slowing of the harmonic rhythm, and then
illustrated by the violent falling gesture leading back to a return to the
opening strophe's themes. The clanging bell is now distant in time, at the
comic retelling of this mundane tragedy.
Mark Twain's more serious and lovely epitaph for his wife's grave is titled
Warm Summer Sun.
The score for 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 graphics
below for this piano-vocal score.