Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund



Sea Poppies - (2009)    

Hilda Doolittle

for soprano and piano


Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,
spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:
your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.
Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

[ 3 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

Hilda Doolittle


The text comes from her 1916 collection, Sea garden, Hilda (Doolittle) Aldington, London: Constable and Company, Ltd.


Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961) was an American poet and novelist, who was known by her initials -- H. D. -- as for her association with the Imagist group of poets such as Ezra Pound and her husband, Richard Aldington, by whose name she went when first publishing the above collection, as well as close associations with D. H. Lawrence. The Imagist writer was to focus on idioms, rhythms and clarity of common speech. Doolittle's later writing turned toward a more gender-centric version of modernism and feminism in line with her turn towards a long term relationship with a female writer, Bryher, while they both sometimes shared paramours. An incident in her life is telling; during 1933, Doolittle underwent analysis with Sigmund Freud in Vienna. She had been referred by Bryher's psychoanalyst for what was thought to be paranoia about the rise of Adolf Hitler and a possible World War. In World War I, her brother was killed in action, and her husband at that time suffered prolonged effects from his war experiences. She believed that war indirectly caused the death of her child with Aldington causing her miscarriage. In retrospect her supposed paranoia was no psychological illness at all, but an accurate premonition of what became Europe's great tragedy of the 20th century.



The word picture of sea poppies sits amidst other word pictures in this Sea Garden, and its references to color and beauty and value are succinct, even rhapsodic. For this, I chose a filigree of gestures and sustained harmonies in five-note chords to capture notions of bright color, and a broad lyricism in the vocal line to embody this appreciation of that beauty.




The enthusiasm for such a seashore scene is apt, for last summer we walked along a shell-cluttered shoreline, palmetto trees standing even down into the surging surf, clusters of small flowers beneath the brush and pelicans in slow flight overhead. The appreciation of such a scene brings forth a swelling awareness of the moment and of the beauty. In such a manner, the vocal line rises from the G-naturals of "beautiful" to the soaring G sharp underpinned by the lowest "D" to paint the "fire upon the leaf." As with any moment such as this, a falling away must follow to prepare for that next climax.



The score for Sea Poppies 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.


Sea Poppies