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Nocturne for tenor solo, seven obligato instruments and string orchestra

Word count: 3847

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

Catalan (Català) translation: Nocturn per a tenor solo, set obligato instruments i orquestra de cordes (Salvador Pila)

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1. On a poet's lips I slept [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "He dormit damunt els llavis d’un poeta", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


On a poet's lips I slept
Dreaming like a love-adept
In the sound his breathing kept;
Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses,
But feeds on the aëreal kisses
Of shapes that haunt thought's wildernesses.
He will watch from dawn to gloom
The lake-reflected sun illume
The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom,
Nor heed nor see, what things they be;
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality!


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

2. Below the thunders of the upper deep [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Sota el renou del raser de l’oceà", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millenial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by [man]1 and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.


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1 Britten: "men"

Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

3. Encinctured with a twine of leaves [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Cinturat amb una gansalla de fulles", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


Encinctured with a twine of leaves,
That leafy twine his only dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits,
By moonlight, in a wilderness.
The moon was bright, the air was free,
And fruits and flowers together grew
On many a shrub and many a tree:
And all put on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy air
Like a picture rich and rare.
It was a climate where, they say,
The night is more beloved than day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil'd
That beauteous boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent and so wild -
Has he no friend, no loving mother near?


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

4. Midnight's bell goes ting, ting, ting [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "La campana a mitjanit fa ting, ting, ting", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


Midnight's bell goes ting, ting, ting, ting, ting,
Then dogs do howl, and not a bird does sing
But the nightingale, and she cries twit, twit, twit;
Owls then on every bough do sit;
Ravens croak on chimneys' tops;
The cricket in the chamber hops;
The nibbling mouse is not asleep,
But he goes peep, peep, peep, peep, peep;
And the cats cry mew, mew, mew,
And still the cats cry mew, mew, mew.


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

5. But that night when on my bed I lay [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Però aquella nit quan jeia al meu llit", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


But that night
When on my bed I lay, I was most mov'd
And felt most deeply in what world I was;
With unextinguish'd taper I kept watch,
Reading at intervals; the fear gone by
Press'd on me almost like a fear to come;
I thought of those September Massacres,
Divided from me by a little month,
And felt and touch'd them, a substantial dread:
The rest was conjured up from tragic fictions,
And mournful Calendars of true history,
Remembrances and dim admonishments.
"The horse is taught his manage, and the wind
Of heaven wheels round and treads in his own steps,
Year follows year, the tide returns again,
Day follows day, all things have second birth;
The earthquake is not satisfied all at once."
And in such way I wrought upon myself,
Until I seem'd to hear a voice that cried
To the whole City, "Sleep no more."


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

6. She sleeps on soft, last breaths [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Ella dorm amb suaus, incessants respirs", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


She sleeps on soft, last breaths; but no ghost looms 
Out of the stillness of her palace wall,
Her wall of boys on boys and dooms on dooms.

She dreams of golden gardens and sweet glooms,
Not marvelling why her roses never fall
Nor what red mouths were torn to make their blooms.

The shades keep down which well might roam her hall.
Quiet their blood lies in her crimson rooms
And she is not afraid of their footfall.

They move not from her tapestries, their pall,
Nor pace her terraces, their hecatombs,
Lest aught she be disturbed, or grieved at all.


Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

7. What is more gentle than a wind in summer? [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Què és més suau que l’oreig a l’estiu?", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)


What is more gentle than a wind in summer? 
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer 
That stays one moment in an open flower, 
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower? 
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing 
In a green island, far from all men’s knowing? 
More healthful than the leafiness of dales? 
More secret than a nest of nightingales? 
More serene than Cordelia’s countenance? 
More full of visions than a high romance? 
What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes! 
Low murmurer of tender lullabies! 
Light hoverer around our happy pillows! 
Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows! 
Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses! 
Most happy listener! when the morning blesses 
Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes 
That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise. 

[ ... ]

View original text (without footnotes)
The poem is headed by a quote from Chaucer:
«As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete 
Was unto me, but why that I ne might 
Rest I ne wist, for there n’as erthly wight 
[As I suppose] had more of hertis ese 
Than I, for I n’ad sicknesse nor disese.»
1 Gendel finishes his setting with a line from later in the poem: "Could all this be forgotten?"

Submitted by Emily Ezust [Administrator]

8. When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see [ sung text checked 1 time]

Language: English

Translation(s): CAT FRE FRE ITA

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

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "Quan més parpellejo, millor hi veuen els meus ulls", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (François-Victor Hugo) , no title, appears in Sonnets de Shakespeare, no. 43, first published 1857
  • ITA Italian (Italiano) (Ferdinando Albeggiani) , "Più io li tengo chiusi, più i miei occhi son chiari", copyright © 2013, (re)printed on this website with kind permission


When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear [day]1 with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
  All days are nights to see till I see thee,
  And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.


View original text (without footnotes)
1 Britten: "days"

Submitted by Ted Perry

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