Songs of War -
Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon,
Isaac Rosenberg, Rudyard Kipling and Rupert Brooke
Seven songs for baritone and piano
i. In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations' - Thomas Hardy [
5 pages, circa 3'30" ]
man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that
stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go
onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
The Send-Off - Wilfred Owen [ 5 pages, circa 3'10" ]
Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men's are,
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
never heard to which front these were sent.
Nor there if they yet
mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall we return
to beatings of great bells
In wild train-loads?
A few, a few, too
few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to village wells
Up half-known roads.
Attack - Siegfried Sassoon [ 5 pages, circa
At dawn the ridge
emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet
the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank
and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!
iv. Dead Man's Dump - Isaac Rosenberg [ 16 pages,
circa 11'35" ]
limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers
The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them
not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and
Earth has waited for them,
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
strength of their strength
Suspended - stopped and held.
fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
Earth! have they gone into
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their soul's sack
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
hurled them out? Who hurled?
None saw their spirits' shadow shake
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron
Drained the wild honey of their youth.
What of us
who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
Immortal seeming ever?
when the flames beat loud on us,
A fear may choke in our veins
the startled blood may stop.
The air is loud with death,
dark air spurts with fire,
The explosions ceaseless are.
Timelessly now, some minutes pass,
These dead strode time with
Till the shrapnel called 'An end!'
But not all. In
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
things, war-blotted from their hearts.
Maniac Earth! howling and
flying, your bowel
Seared by the jagged fire, the iron love,
impetuous storm of savage love.
Dark Earth! dark Heavens! Swinging in
What dead are born when you kiss each soundless soul
With lightning and thunder from your minded heart,
Which man's self
dug, and his blind fingers loosed?
A man's brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer's face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.
They left this dead with the other dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.
Burnt black by strange decay
sinister faces lie,
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured
More motion have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silence.
Here is one not long dead;
His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living world
the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the
end to break
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the
world broke over his sight.
Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight.
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face.
v. Gethsemane (1914-18) - Rudyard
Kipling [ 5 pages, circa 3'00" ]
The Garden called Gethsemane
In Picardy it was,
And there the
people came to see
The English soldiers pass.
We used to pass
- we used to pass
Or halt, as it might be,
And ship our masks in
case of gas
The Garden called Gethsemane
It held a pretty lass,
But all the time she talked to me
my cup might pass.
The officer sat on the chair,
The men lay
on the grass,
And all the time we halted there,
I prayed my cup
It didn't pass - it didn't pass -
It didn't pass
I drank it when we met the gas
vi. Danny Deever - Rudyard Kipling
[ 10 pages, circa 4'50" ]
are the bugles blowin' for? Said Files-on-Parade.
'To turn you out,
to turn you out," the Colour-Sergeant said.
'What makes you look so
white, so white?' said Files-on-Parade.
'I'm dreadin' what I've got
to watch,' the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're hangin' Danny
Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The Regiment's in 'ollow
square - they're hangin' him to-day;
They've taken of his buttons off
an' cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the
'What makes the rear-rank breathe so hard?' said
'It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold,' the
'What makes that front-rank man fall down,'
'A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun,' the
They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are
marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin'
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!
cot was right-'and cot to mine,' said Files-on-Parade.
out and far to-night,' the Colour-Sergeant said.
'I've drunk 'is beer
a score o' times,' said Files-on-Parade.
''E's drinkin' bitter beer
alone,' the Colour Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, you
must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' - you must
look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is country an' the Regiment's
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
'What's that so black agin the sun?' said Files-on-Parade.
Danny fightin' 'ard for life,' the Colour-Sergeant said.
that whimpers over'ead?' said Files-on-Parade.
'It's Danny's soul
that's passin' now,' the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're done with
Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,
The Regiment's in
column, an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! The young recruits are
shakin', an' they'll want their beer to-day,
After hangin' Danny
Deever in the mornin'!
The Dead - Rupert Brooke [ 5 pages,
circa 3'20" ]
These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
with sorrow, swift to mirth,
The years had given them kindness. Dawn
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies,
all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
Total cycle [ 52 pages with cover and texts, circa 32' 05" ]
This cycle of seven songs for baritone and piano - Songs of War - was
composed in Verona, Italy, in November 2004, with a thought to the
horrors of war as were catalogued by these seminal World War One poets
and as the same repeated horrors, albeit in in far smaller numbers
statistically, are exposed in the news of these days. And yet life and
Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Rudyard
Kipling, Rupert Brooke
Therefore, the sentiment is reprised musically in the final song, with
the clear thought that "a gathered
radiance, a width, a shining peace, under the night" comes from war, not
because we shirk from its horrors, but rather endure them with cause and
reason and even our art.
Thus the cycle is both a litany of horrors drawn from the ugly beauty of
these poets' works and a statement of faith as well, by which the
horrors of war themselves are mitigated by the abiding truth that life
continues, and perhaps the world becomes a little better as the venues
for war recede and become fewer and fewer historically.
What should be noted is that many of these poets writing on the grim
realities of war were themselves soldiers. In today's antiwar rhetoric,
the phrase "war is not the answer" does not offer another answer, for
peace is never assured by simply calling for peace itself, but by war's
ending, and each war must come to an end agreeable to the world's
betterment. No one can rightly argue that war should have ended with
national socialism ruling Europe or an imperial Japan in control of
China and its other neighbors. Rather the horrors of war remind us, as
Hardy so well reminds, that new lives and loves do indeed go on is
apt, as he writes that "War's annals will cloud into night ere their
So is my outlook on our world. Certainly having lived in Germany
and having worked in both Italy and Japan, both nations which shared a
fascist ideology only sixty years ago, is a wondrous demonstration that
not only lives and loves continue, but that the world indeed becomes a
better and more peaceful place as the years pass and the need for war
diminishes -- because some wars resulted in the triumph of the good over
evil. Those who believe war is evil refuse to see the evils beyond war
itself, and some of them are the greater evils which cannot be tolerated
for a people and their culture to prosper.
4 November 2004
The score for
Songs of War 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
Songs of War
8 ½ x 11 format