The Apple-Tree -
for mezzo soprano and piano
the archangels in my apple-tree last night,
I saw them like great birds in the starlight—
Purple and burning blue, crimson and shining white.
And each to each they tossed an apple to and fro,
And once I heard their laughter gay and low;
And yet I felt no wonder that it should be so.
But when the apple came one time to Michael’s lap
I heard him say: "The mysteries that enwrap
The earth and fill the heavens can be read here, mayhap."
Then Gabriel spoke: "I praise the deed, the hidden thing."
"The beauty of the blossom of the spring
I praise," cried Raphael. Uriel: "The wise leaves I sing."
And Michael: "I will praise the fruit, perfected, round,
Full of the love of God, herein being bound
His mercies gathered from the sun and rain and ground."
So sang they till a small wind through the branches stirred,
And spoke of coming dawn; and at its word
Each fled away to heaven, winged like a bird.
pages, circa 3' 30"
Detail from Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Nancy Campbell (née Nancy Maude, 1886-n. d.) was married in 1910 to Irish
poet Joseph Campbell, and then permanently separated in 1924. Born in
England, she visited Ireland in 1907 and again in 1909, meeting poet and
writer Campbell, thereby becoming estranged from her family. She published
collections of poetry, The Little People (1910) and Agnus
Dei (1912), and had two poems published in poet and editor Harriet
Monroe's magazine Poetry in 1915. This is one of those two poems.
apple tree is part of a central myth of the Judeo-Christian world, as well
as varying notions of angels. Dreams figure in other biblical myths as well
as in the recent growth of the discipline of psychology in which mythic
elements played out in dreams are interpreted with various import and
meaning. The apple from that mythic apple tree, as forbidden fruit, was the
totem by which knowledge of "good and evil" was said to have entered the
mind of man. Thus, this poem's "praise" places in the words of an angel
might link "mercies" with that "knowledge of good and evil" which remains a
central religious and philosophical struggle over millennia.
Campbell mentions four angels' names is interesting. The "El" being an
abbreviation of a longer term for God, the prefixes add some modifier. Gabri-el
as God as strong or heroic, Rapha-el as God as healer, Micha-el as the
question "who is like God," and Uri-el as God as light. That aspects of God
formed as characters in conversation is the specific standing against the
general theme, as the apple from that apple tree is both ordinary and ripe
with mythic meaning as well, "gathered from the sun and rain and ground."
One may also notice that they "spoke" and yet the poem ends declaring "so
they sang." A fine metaphor to also explain texts' relationship to song
The opening gestures overlay harmonic domains unrelated to the overtone
series as the musical imaging of a dreamlike state is imagined. What begins
rooted on the F sharp in the left hand ends the song setting, as various
tonal domains move from center to nest temporary center, as the voice line
declaims the lines of the text rather in the fashion of an accompanied
The score 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 art song score.