The Donkey - (2010)
medium voice and piano
When fishes flew
and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tatter'd outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will
Starve, scourge, deride me, I am dumb
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
pages, circa 2' 50" ]
the many references to the donkey in literature, poetry and music, most are
portraits in which the donkey is the butt of the joke. Examples from German
culture which I have set to music are Claudius' caricature
and Heine's political commentary,
In Chesterton's poem found in The Wild Knight and Other Poems,
published 1900, this is turned into a comment referring to the Christian
narrative of Palm Sunday.
choose to find in it also another layer of meaning, in which even the usual
butt of jokes has inherent and even redemptive value, if only for that
character's parenthetic participation in another story. That the character
of the donkey keeps his "secret" and therefore remains silent in the face of
derision is more than admirable, keeping counsel with the true and certain
knowledge of self-worth in a world which would so willingly dilute it.
Chesterton offers us a glimpse of that all-too-real world which would seek
to "starve, scourge, deride" in his dark
The Horrible History of Jones.
This is text, in part, the answer to a conundrum of life as Chesterton
reminds us that our worth is of our own creation, of the fortuitous nexus of
significant, positive life experiences and our wisdom in holding in our
thoughts each "one far fierce hour and sweet."
stanzas of the poem are set, beginning in C with long accompanying arches of
falling diatonic harmonies often in a soft "snap" rhythm.
second stanza is set, moving by common tone modulation to E, and then beyond
into A before a return to C. Characterizing in musical gesture such images
as "monstrous head" and "sickening cry" are avoided, in favor of an
underlying beauty and wisdom which Chesterton teaches through the conclusion
of this text.
acceleration of tempo occurs in portraying the "others" in life who
disparage and deride, as the setting briefly moves to A major, before a
bright tonic sums up the poet's vision of redemption.
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 piano-vocal score.