Long-Legged Fly - (2018)   

William Butler Yeats

for baritone and piano


That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand upon his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope's chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding resides
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

4 pages, circa 5' 00"


This verse of three stanzas is set such that the slight variants in scansion apply more to the vocal line for declamatory purposes than to the piano accompaniment. In quiet dynamics throughout, rubato is suggested as appropriate. "That civilisation may not sink, / Its great battle lost," is an important sentiment as conflicts between cultures wash across the landscape of the world.


One might note that civilization for Yeats is a singular word, quite unlike the political view which pits culture against culture, and rather suggests that what "moves in silence" also moves in individuality, as civilization's progress, mythic, scientific, technical, philosophic, artistic and more, also "moves" in thought and in accomplishment, as Yeats uses Caesar, "she" which is "part woman, and three parts a child" in the mythic tale, and the whimsically spelled Michael Angelo, all to identify individual impact throughout human history.



The outset of each large arch of the harmonic chord succession begins with a slow arpeggio, and thereafter the piano part should be dryly non arpa. The three-syllable pronunciation of "legged" in this setting is for musical purposes, as both readings might be supported in recitation, while being sung a more formal, liturgical color is imagined.   For other settings of Yeats' texts, click here .



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.


Long-Legged Fly