Before and After Summer

Overlooking the River Stour

The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
Above the river-gleam
In the wet June’s last beam:
Like little crossbows animate
The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
Above the river-gleam.

Planing up shavings of crystal spray
A moor-hen darted out
From the bank thereabout,
And through the stream-shine ripped his way;
Planing up shavings of crystal spray
A moor-hen darted out.

Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
Dripped in monotonous green,
Though the day’s morning sheen
Had shown it golden and honeybee’d;
Closed were the kingcups; and the mead
Dripped in monotonous green.

And never I turned my head, alack,
While these things met my gaze
Through the pane’s drop-drenched glaze,
To see the more behind my back . . .
O never I turned, but let, alack,
These less things hold my gaze!

Words by Thomas Hardy 

Set to music by Gerald Finzi, in his collection of 10 songs for baritone and piano “Before and after Summer.”

Finzi had a special feeling for Hardy’s poetry and set more of him than any other poet.   Today I have been listening to a CD of Finzi’s Hardy songs recorded in the late ’60s by John Carol Case & Robert Tear with Finzi’s friend Howard Ferguson at the piano.

A glittering star unfolds

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The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two–till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead–and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

 

John Clare

As the clouds that are so light

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As the clouds that are so light,
Beautiful, swift, and bright,
Cast shadows on field and park
Of the earth that is so dark,

And even so now, light one!
Beautiful, swift and bright one!
You let fall on a heart that was dark,
Unillumined, a deeper mark.

But clouds would have, without earth
To shadow, far less worth:
Away from your shadow on me
Your beauty less would be,

And if it still be treasured
An age hence, it shall be measured
By this small dark spot
Without which it were not.

Edward Thomas

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The Water-Lilies

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The water-lilies on the meadow stream
Again spread out their leaves of glossy green;
And some, yet young, of a rich copper gleam,
Scarce open, in the sunny stream are seen,
Throwing a richness upon Leisure’s eye,
That thither wanders in a vacant joy;
While on the sloping banks, luxuriantly,
Tending of horse and cow, the chubby boy,
In self-delighted whims, will often throw
Pebbles, to hit and splash their sunny leaves;
Yet quickly dry again, they shine and glow
Like some rich vision that his eye deceives;
Spreading above the water, day by day,
In dangerous deeps, yet out of danger’s way.

John Clare

Summer’s reflections

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I love to see the summer beaming forth

And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north

I love to see the wild flowers come again

And Mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain

And water lilies whiten on the floods

Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood

Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes

And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes

I like the willow leaning half way o’er

The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore

I love the hay grass when the flower head swings

To summer winds and insects happy wings

That sport about the meadow the bright day

And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

John Clare

The miles go sliding by

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The miles go sliding by
Under my steady feet,
That mark a leisurely
And still unbroken beat,
Through coppices that hear
Awhile, then lie as still
As though no traveller
Ever had climbed their hill.
My comrades are the small
Or dumb or singing birds,
Squirrels, field things all
And placid drowsing herds.
Companions that I must
Greet for a while, then leave
Scattering the forward dust
From dawn to late of eve.

Ivor Gurney 

Ivor Gurney was probably the most original composer of his generation, but his music is harder to categorise than the music of Delius and his music is rarely performed.  His poetry too is not easy to categorise and takes unexpected turns.  A bit like life, really.

To Autumn

Come, pensive Autumn, with thy clouds, and storms
And falling leaves, and pastures lost to flowers;
A luscious charm hangs on thy faded forms,
More sweet than Summer in her loveliest hours,
Who in her blooming uniform of green,
Delights with samely and continued joy:
But give me, Autumn, where thy hand hath been,
For there is wildness that can never cloy –
The russet hue of fields left bare, and all
The tints of leaves and blossoms ere they fall.
In thy dull days of clouds a pleasure comes,
Wild music softens in thy hollow winds;
And in thy fading woods a beauty blooms,
That’s more than dear to melancholy minds.

John Clare

Patrick Stewart reads ‘ To Autumn ‘ by John Clare