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To be sung upon the water

Word count: 804

Song Cycle by Dominick Argento (1927 - 2019)

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1. Prologue: Shadow And Substance


As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,
Sees many beauteous sights -- weeds, fishes, flowers,
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
In their true dwelling; now is crossed by gleam
Of his own image, by a sunbeam now,
And wavering motions sent he knows not whence,
Impediment that make his task more sweet;
Such pleasant office have I long pursued
Incumbent o'er the surface of past time.


2. The Lake At Evening


Clouds, lingering yet, extend in solid bars
Through the grey west; and lo! These waters, steeled
By breezeless air to smoothest polish, yield
A vivid repetition of the stars;
Jove, Venus and the ruddy crest of Mars
Amid his fellows beauteously revealed
At happy distance from earth's groaning field,
Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars.
Is it a mirror? -- or the nether Sphere
Opening to view the abyss in which she feeds
Her own calm fires? -- But [list]1! a voice is near;
Great Pan himself low-whispering through the reeds,
'Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquility is here!'


View original text (without footnotes)
1 Argento: "listen"

3. Music On The Water


Lutes and voices down th' enchanted woods
Steal, and compose the oar-forgotten floods,
While Evening's solemn bird melodious weeps,
Heard, by star-spotted bays, beneath the steeps;
Slow glides the sail along th' illumined shore,
And steals into the shade the lazy oar.
Soft bosoms breathe around contagious sighs
And amourous music on the water dies.


4. Fair Is The Swan


Fair is the Swan, whose majesty, prevailing
O'er breezeless water, on Locarno's Lake,
Bears him on while proudly sailing
He leaves behind a moon-illuminated wake:
- Behold! -- as with a gushing impulse heaves
That downy prow, and softly cleaves
The mirror of the crystal flood,
Vanish inverted hill, and shadowy wood,
And pendent rocks, where'er in gliding state,
Winds the mute Creature without visible Mate
Or Rival, save the Queen of night
Showering down a silver light,
From heaven, upon her chosen Favourite!


5. In Remembrance Of Schubert


O glide, fair stream! For ever so,
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
Till all our minds for ever flow
As thy deep waters now are flowing.
Vain thought! -- Yet be as now thou art,
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poet's heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Now let us, as we float along,
For him suspend the dashing oar;
And pray that never child of song
May know that Poet's sorrows more.
How calm! how still! the only sound,
The dripping of the oar suspended!


6. Hymn Near the Rapids


Jesu! bless our slender Boat,
By the current swept along;
Loud its threatenings -- let them not
Drown the music of a song;
Breathed thy mercy to implore,
Where these troubled waters roar!
Saviour, for our warning, seen
Bleeding on that precious Rood;
If, while through the meadows green
Gently wound the peaceful flood,
We forgot Thee, do not Thou
Disregard Thy Suppliants now!
Hither, like yon ancient Tower
Watching o'er the River's bed,
Fling the shadow of thy power,
Else we sleep among the dead;
Thou who trod'st the billowy sea,
Shield us in our jeopardy!
Guide our Bark among the waves;
Through the rocks our passage smooth;
Where the whirlpool frets and raves
Let Thy love its anger soothe;
All our hope is placed in Thee;
Miserere Domine!


7. The Lake At Night


Sweet are the sounds that mingle from afar,
Heard by calm lakes, as peeps the folding star,
Where the duck dabbles 'mid the rustling sedge,
And feeding pike starts from the water's edge,
Or the swan stirs the reeds, his neck and mill
Wetting, that drip upon the water still;
And now, on every side, the surface breaks
Into blue spots, and slowly lengthening streaks;
Here, plots of sparkling water tremble bright
With thousand thousand twinkling points of light:
And now the whole wide lake in deep repose
Is hushed, and like a burnished mirror glows.


8. Epilogue: De Profundis


The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea;
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


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