duet for tenor and baritone and
Huntington sleeps in a house six feet long.
Huntington dreams of railroads he built and owned.
dreams of ten thousand men saying: Yes, sir.
in a house six feet long.
Blithery dreams of rails and ties he
Blithery dreams of saying to Huntington: Yes, sir.
Blithery, sleep in houses six feet long.
Carl Sandburg (1878–1967) published Cornhuskers
in 1918. The short poem above speaks to the ultimate reality of
human existence, the equal end to which we all succumb. These eight
lines show that poetry can capture an idea, a sentiment and a
philosophy, all with a few choice words. The setting for tenor and
baritone mirrors the two protagonists in Frost's vignette -- two
dead still playing their roles.
The poem's stanzas are overlaid, such that each voice
sings "his" part, one approximately matching the other in shape and
form, offset only in the opening text which begins as if a canon.
The gesture in the accompaniment could suggest the ringing of bells.
The voices converge for the phrase "yes, sir," and
then restate the "sir" in a dissonance of minor seconds. This dream
in an afterlife perhaps is not so sweet, after all, for as the
setting ends, it is Blithery "atop" Huntington at a major second.
The score for Southern Pacific 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.