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


June 3, 2009

Gavin’s Notes:

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.

Gavin Bryars