Death's Jest-Book

Song Cycle by Brian Holmes (b. 1946)

Word count: 461

1. Dirge (If thou wilt ease thine heart) [sung text not yet checked]

If thou [wilt]1 ease thine heart
Of love and all its smart,
   Then sleep, dear, sleep;
And not a sorrow
   Hang any tear on your eyelashes;
   Lie still and [deep],2
   Sad soul, until the sea-wave washes
The rim o' th' sun tomorrow,
   In eastern sky.

But [wilt]1 thou cure thine heart
Of love and all its smart,
   Then die, dear, die;
'Tis deeper, sweeter,
   Than on a rose bank to lie dreaming
   [With folded eye;]3
   And then alone, amid the beaming
Of love's stars, thou'lt meet her
   In eastern sky.

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View original text (without footnotes)
1 Parry: "would'st"
2 Britten: "deep,/ With folded eye;" (moved from the second stanza)
3 omitted by Britten (moved to the first stanza); Parry: "With tranced eye"

Researcher for this text: Ted Perry

2. Dream-pedlary [sung text not yet checked]

 If there were dreams to sell,
	What would you buy?
 Some cost a passing bell;
	Some a light sigh,
 That shakes from Life's fresh crown
 Only a rose-leaf down.
 If there were dreams to sell,
 Merry and sad to tell,
	And the crier rang the bell,
	What would you buy?

 A cottage lone and still,
	With bowers nigh,
 Shadowy, my woes to still,
	Until I die.
 Such pearl from Life's fresh crown
 Fain would I shake me down.
 Were dreams to have at will,
 This best would heal my ill,
	This would I buy.

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Researcher for this text: Ted Perry

3. Old Adam, the Carrion Crow [sung text checked 1 time]

Old Adam, the carrion crow,
    The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
    Under his tail and over his crest;
        And through every feather
        Leaked the wet weather;
    And the bough swung under his nest;
    For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
        Is that the wind dying? O no:
        It's only two devils, that blow
        Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
            In the ghosts' moonshine.

Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
    When we have supped on the kings' marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
    Our nest it is queen Cleopatra's skull,
        'Tis cloven and cracked,
        And battered and hacked,
    But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
        Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo.
             Is that the wind dying? O no:
             It's only two devils, that blow
              Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
            In the ghosts' moonshine.

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Researcher for this text: Brian Holmes

4. The Phantom-Wooer [sung text checked 1 time]

A ghost, that loved a lady fair,
Ever in the starry air
    Of midnight at her pillow stood;
And, with a sweetness skies above
The luring words of human love
    Her soul the phantom wooed.
Sweet and sweet is their poisoned note,
The little snakes of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing, 'die, oh! die.'

Young soul, put off your flesh, and come
With me into the quiet tomb,
    Our bed is lovely, dark, and sweet;
The earth will swing us, as she goes,
Beneath our coverlid of snows,
    And the warm leaden sheet.
Dear and dear is their poisoned note,
The little snakes of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing, 'die, oh! die.'

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Researcher for this text: Brian Holmes