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The Voice of Desire

Word count: 450

Song Cycle by Judith Weir (b. 1954)

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1. The voice of desire [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

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Beautiful must be the mountains whence ye come,
And bright in the fruitful valleys the streams, wherefrom
    Ye learn your song:
Where are those starry woods? O might I wander there,
Among the flowers, which in that heavenly air
    Bloom the year long!

[Nay,]1 barren are those mountains and spent the streams:
Our song is the voice of desire, that haunts our dreams,
    A throe of the heart,
Whose pining visions dim, forbidden hopes profound,
No dying cadence nor long sigh can sound,
    For all our art.

Alone, aloud in the raptured ear of men
We pour our dark nocturnal secret; and then,
    As night is withdrawn
[From these sweet-springing meads and bursting boughs of May,]1
Dream, while the innumerable choir of day
    Welcome the dawn.


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1 omitted by Weir.

Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

2. White eggs in the bush [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English after the Yorùbá

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The blue cuckoo
 [ ... ]


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3. Written on terrestrial things [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): GER

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Available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • GER German (Deutsch) [singable] (Walter A. Aue) , "Die dunkelnde Drossel (Am letzten Tag des 19. Jahrhunderts)", copyright © 2010, (re)printed on this website with kind permission


I leaned upon a coppice gate
  When frost was specter-gray,
And winter's dregs made desolate
  The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
  Like strings [from]1 broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
  Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
  The Century's corpse outleant;
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
  The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
  Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
  Seemed fervorless as I.

At once a voice [burst forth]2 among
  The bleak twigs overhead
In full-hearted evensong
  Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
  In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
  Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
  Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
  Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
  His happy good-night air
Some blessed hope, whereof he knew
  And I was unaware.


View original text (without footnotes)
First published in Graphic, 1900, rev. 1902
1 Hoiby, Weir: "of"
2 Hoiby, Weir: "arose"

Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

4. Sweet little red feet [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

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I had a dove and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving:
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied,
With a silken thread of my own hand's weaving;
Sweet little red feet! why should you die --
Why should you leave me, sweet bird! why?
You lived alone in the forest tree,
Why, pretty thing! would you not live with me?
I kissed you oft and gave you white peas:
Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees?


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

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