James Lee's Wife

Song Cycle by Arthur Somervell, Sir (1863 - 1937)

Word count: 590

1. James Lee's wife speaks at the window [sung text checked 1 time]

Ah, Love, but a day,
And the world has changed!
The sun's away,
And the bird estranged;
The wind has dropped, 
And the sky's deranged;
Summer has stopped.

Look in my eyes!
Wilt thou change too?
Should I fear surprise?
Shall I find aught new 
In the old and dear,
In the good and true,
With the changing year?

Thou art a man,
But I am thy love.
For the lake, its swan;
For the dell, its dove;
And for thee — (oh, haste!)
Me, to bend above,
Me, to hold embraced.


See other settings of this text.

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

  • GER German (Deutsch) (Sharon Krebs) , "Ach, Geliebter, nur ein Tag", copyright © 2014, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • ITA Italian (Italiano) (Denise Ritter Bernardini) , "Ah, l'amore, ma un giorno", copyright © 2014, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

2. By the fireside [sung text checked 1 time]

Is all our fire of shipwreck wood,
        Oak and pine?
Oh, for the ills half-understood,
        The dim dead woe
        Long ago
Befallen this bitter coast of France!
Well, poor sailors took their chance;
        I take mine.

A ruddy shaft our fire must shoot
        O’er the sea
Do sailors eye the casement-mute,
        Drenched and stark,
        From their bark—
And envy, gnash their teeth for hate
O’ the warm safe house and happy freight
        —Thee and me?

God help you, sailors, at your need!
        Spare the curse!
For some ships, safe in port indeed,
        Rot and rust,
        Run to dust,
All through worms i’ the wood, that crept,
Gnawed our hearts out while we slept:
        That is worse.


Researcher for this text: Malcolm Wren [Guest Editor]

3. In the doorway [sung text checked 1 time]

The swallow has set her six young on the rail,
            And looks sea-ward:
The water’s in stripes like a snake, olive-pale
            To the leeward,—
On the weather-side, black, spotted white with the wind.
“Good fortune departs, and disaster’s behind,”—
Hark, hark, the wind with its wants and its infinite wail!

And why must cold spread? but wherefore bring change
            To the spirit,
God meant should mate his with an infinite range,
            And inherit
His power to put life in the darkness and cold?
Oh, live and love worthily, bear and be bold!
Whom Summer made friends of, let Winter estrange!


Researcher for this text: Malcolm Wren [Guest Editor]

4. On the cliff [sung text checked 1 time]

I leaned on the turf,
I looked at a rock
Left dry by the surf;
For the turf, to call it grass were to mock:
Dead to the roots, so deep was done
The work of the summer sun.

And the rock lay flat
As an anvil’s face:
No iron like that!
Baked dry; of a shell, of a weed no trace:
Sunshine outside, but ice at the core,
Death’s altar by the lone shore.

On the turf, sprang gay
With his films of blue,
No cricket, I’ll say,
But a warhorse, barded and chanfroned too,
The gift of a quixote-mage to his knight,
Real fairy, with wings all right.

On the rock, they scorch
Like a drop of fire
From a brandished torch,
Fall two red fans of a butterfly:
No turf, no rock: in their ugly stead,
See, wonderful blue and red!

Is it not so
With the minds of men?
The level and low,
The burnt and bare, in themselves; but then
With such a blue and red grace, not theirs,
Love settling unawares!


Researcher for this text: Malcolm Wren [Guest Editor]

5. Among the rocks [sung text checked 1 time]

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
    This Autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knee and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
    Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
    Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
    Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!


Researcher for this text: Malcolm Wren [Guest Editor]