Text: George Bruce
Tenor and piano
Duration c. 12′
First performance: James Gilchrist, tenor, Julius Drake, piano,
Leeds Lieder+, The Venue, Leeds College of Music, October 3 2009
Text of Songs from Northern Seas (text: George Bruce)
1. The Fisherman
As he comes from one of those small houses
Set within the curve of the low cliff
For a moment he pauses
Foot on step at the low lintel
Before fronting wind and sun.
He carries out from within something of the dark
Concealed by heavy curtain,
Or held within the ship under hatches.
Yet with what assurance
The compact body moves,
Head pressed to wind,
His being at an angle
As to anticipate the lurch of earth.
Who is he to contain night
And still walk stubborn
Holding the ground with light feet
And with a careless gait?
Perhaps a cataract of light floods,
Perhaps the apostolic flame.
Whatever it might be
The road takes him from us.
Now the pier is his, now the tide.
2. A Departure
The short man waves his hand,
Half turns, and then makes off.
He is going to the country
Taking the road with the field of clover
On one side, the beach in the other,
The beach jarred by white stones,
The clover globed waiting for soft winds.
At the top of the rise within earshot
Of both sea and birds for a moment
He stops. (Stop now for ever there
To witness sea sound, bird note,
Sea town’s cries.) But he
As if hurt and shamed,
Moves, head bent, clothes loose upon him.
We would offer blood, cash down,
For a last knowing gesture,
But the hill has him – or the sea.
3. The Helmsman
Write out the wind of his hometown
And reckon its dance, not as the impact
On a wall, but on its history.
This wind that killed in the desert
That slit the ice-cap,
That blasted first life from soil,
That chanted about the Inn at night,
Blew winter at the Babe;
Blows to a flare the light in any
Hero helmsman’s brain till his head
Above its circles – hands on wheel –
Is circled by a cloudless constellation.
His eyes are stars, his arms embrace
An unhinged world. Astride the swelling wind
In the empty dawn, in the horizon light
He becomes stature.
4. The Seaman, an Epilogue
For Andrew Stewart
What vision his, Northward he stares
On polar suns that burst and flood
On black and blood-red water
Whose movement breaking the white light
Prismatically, spreads North and North
Salt gold and green to the cold berg’s foot.
What vision his when South he looks
From sea to land, across those waterways –
Home, seen now in the perspective of space,
Men minute and shadow-like, active at their doors,
Pulling their doll-like crafts ashore.
He sees their purposes, yet hears nothing,
No pebbles’ jar, no thump of boat, no shout
As rapid waters easily o’erwhelm
And run about the low decks and thrust
Aside the boats, returning them to the original sea.
Yet he trusting these shadows,
More real than rock, hearts perdurable
Without doubt or fear – homeward steers.