Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The River of Ruin - (2010)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


A long by the river of ruin
They dally—the thoughtless ones,
They dance and they dream
By the side of the stream,
As long as the river runs.

It seems all so pleasant and cheery—
No thought of the morrow is theirs,
And their faces are bright
With the sun or delight,
And they dream of no night-brooding cares.

The women wear garlanded tresses,
The men have rings on their hands,
And they sing in their glee,
For they think they are free—
They that know not the treacherous sands.

Ah, but this be a venturesome journey,
Forever those sands are ashrift,
And a step to one side
Means a grasp of the tide,
And the current is fearful and swift.

For once in the river of ruin,
What boots it, to do or to dare,
For down we must go
In the turbulent flow,
To the desolate sea of Despair.

[ 4 pages, circa 4' 45" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text was a part of Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow, the Century Company, 1901.



The introduction, with material from the first stanzas' accompaniment begins with a somber color forte and resting a moment on the A flat seven, before taking up again in a subdued dynamic which builds to a hardening marcato. The poem is an earnest work, and setting as well, for the tales of which this poem is a summary and warning are indeed tragic. Dunbar reminds us that we -- all find ourselves at times in this situation -- sometimes are heedless of the serious consequences of our ill-considered actions. This is true in individual lives as in whole societies and cultures, and it is the which populates so much of contemporary dialogue in any age. The light syncopation places this text in its linguistic Americana milieu, though the lesson is universal.



The third stanza reports of the rather normal follies of man as the tonality slips away into changing domains.



The summarizing statement "down we must go" is a falling line in both voice and accompaniment, hammering home in fortissimo Dunbar's all-too-human reminder to us, for down "we" go from time to time, and age to age. The setting withers away to a pianissimo, for consequences to some human folly indeed generate utter despair, that "river" leading to the wider "sea."



The score for The River Of Ruin 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.


The River Of Ruin