Who are these children?

Song Cycle by (Edward) Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)

Word count: 745

1. A riddle (Answer: the earth) [sung text checked 1 time]

There’s pairt o’ it young
And pairt o’ it auld:
There’s pairt o’ it het
And pairt o’ it cold:
There’s pairt o’ it bare
And pairt o’ it claid:
There’s pairt o’ it quick
And pairt o’ it dead.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

2. A laddie's sang [sung text checked 1 time]

O! it’s owre the braes abüne out toun
Whan the simmer days come in;
Whaur the blue-bells grow, and the burnies row,
And gowdan is the whin.

The gowk sings frae the birkin-schaw,
And the laverock far aboon:
The bees bummer by, the peesies cry,
And the lauchin linn lowps doun.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

3. Nightmare [sung text checked 1 time]

The tree stood flowering in a dream:
Beside the tree a dark shape bowed:
As lightning glittered the axe-gleam
Across the wound in the broken wood.

The tree cried out with human cries:
From its deepening hurt the blood ran:
The branches flowered with children’s eyes
And the dark murderer was a man.

There came a fear which sighed aloud;
And with its fear the dream-world woke:
Yet in the day the tree still stood
Bleeding beneath the axe-man’s stroke.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

4. Black day [sung text checked 1 time]

A skelp frae his teacher
For a’ he couldna spell
A skelp frae his mither
For cowpin owre the kail.

A skelp frae his brither
For clourin his braw bat:
A skelp frae his faither
For the Lord kens what.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

5. Bed-time [sung text checked 1 time]

Cuddle-doun, my bairnie;
The dargie day is dune:
Yon’s a silver sternie
Ablow the siller müne.

Like a wabster body
Hingin on a threed,
Far abüne my laddie
And his wee creepie-bed.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

6. Slaughter [sung text checked 1 time]

Within the violence of the storm
The wise men are made dumb:
Young bones are hollowed by the worm;
The babe dies in the womb.

Above the lover’s mouth is pressed
The silence of a stone:
Fate rides upon the iron beast
And tramples cities down.

And shall the multitudinous grave
Our enmity inter;
These dungeons of misrule enslave
Our bitterness and fear?

All are the conquered; and in vain
The laurel binds the brow:
The phantoms of the dead remain
And our faces show.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

7. A riddle (The child you were) [sung text checked 1 time]

It was your faither and mither
Yet it wasna weddit:
It was your sister or brither
Though nane were beside it.

Wit and wisdom it lent ye,
Yet it wasna laired:
And though it dee’d or it kent ye
It was never buried.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

8. The larky lad [sung text checked 1 time]

The larky lad frae the pantry
Skipp’t through the muckle ha;
He had sma’ fear o’ the gentry,
And his respec’ was sma’.

He cockit his face richt merry;
And as he jiggit on
His mou’ was round as a cherry
Like he whistled a braw tune.
And monie a noble body
Glower’d doun frae his frame o’ gowd
On the plisky pantry-laddie 
Wha was sae merry and royd.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

9. Who are these children? [sung text checked 1 time]

With easy hands upon the rein,
And hounds at their horses feet,
The ladies and the gentlemen
Ride through the village street.

Brightness of blood upon the coats
And on the women’s lips:
Brightness of silver at the throats
And on the hunting whips.

Is there a dale more calm, more green
Under this morning hour;
A scene more alien than this scene
Within a world at war?

Who are these children gathered here
Out of the fire and smoke
That with remembering faces stare
Upon the foxing folk?

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

10. Supper [sung text checked 1 time]

Steepies for the barnie 
Sae moolie in the mou': 
Parritch for a strappan lad 
To mak his beard grow. 

Stovies for a muckle-man 
To keep him stout and hale: 
A noggin for the auld carl 
To gar him sleep weel. 

Bless the meat, and bless the drink, 
And the hand that steers the pat: 
And be guid to beggar-bodies 
Whan they come to your yet.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson

11. The children [sung text checked 1 time]

Upon the street they lie
Beside the broken stone:
The blood of children stares from the broken stone.

Death came out of the sky
In the bright afternoon:
Darkness slanted over the bright afternoon.

Again the sky is clear
But upon earth a stain:
The earth is darkened with a darkening stain:

A wound which everywhere 
Corrupts the hearts of men:
The blood of children corrupts the hearts of men.

Silence is in the air:
The stars move to their places:
Silent and serene the stars move to their places:

But from earth the children stare
With blind and fearful faces:
And our charity is in the children’s faces.

Authorship

See other settings of this text.

Confirmed with William Soutar, Poems in Scots and English, selected by W R Aitken, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1972, page 29.


Research team for this text: Iain Sneddon [Guest Editor] , Mike Pearson

12. The auld aik [sung text checked 1 time]

The auld aik’s doun:
The auld aik’s doun:
Twa hunner year it stüde, or mair,
But noo it’s doun, doun.

The auld aik’s doun:
The auld aik’s doun:
We were sae shair it would aye be there,
But noo it’s doun, doun.

Authorship

Researcher for this text: Mike Pearson