On Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, a romance for violin and orchestra inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same title (see both below).

Past years of smoke and pain, a tune in ether flows
Untouched, while spreading forth from inspiration’s spring:
Swift crystal tones unite in winding flight to bring
The lark to life, from words in which its song once rose.

A sylvan scene of yore is summoned through a string,
Far, lost to time, yet to our feeling’s pulse so near –
The rushing wings of sound, the breathless voice we hear
Reflect a life that’s there no more to rise and sing…

Perceptions come to deepen, further as we peer
Through olden times’ clear lens of peacefulness and care
For life’s pure colors few now know and fewer share,
Thus, less can these live on with each new clouded year.

A wordless poem crystallizes in the air,
Addressing all who pause to listen and can gaze
Above the ceaseless to and fro of earthbound days;
For to our fleeting focus, nothing’s pictured there.

The tuneful echoes brighten, piercing through the haze
Of self-absorption, as a waking call to keep
Alive each creature’s destined voice… The lark may leap
Then towards tomorrow, further trails of song to blaze.

 

 

The Lark Ascending

by George Meredith

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolved and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changeingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardour, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discerned
An ecstasy to music turned,
Impelled by what his happy bill
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renewed in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow;
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filtered crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight;
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrained,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustained
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flushed to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him raised,
Puts on the light of children praised;
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,
Though nought be promised from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment
For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine,
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labour in the town;
He sings the sap, the quickened veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.

Was never voice of ours could say
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink.
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat;
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.
Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve, and, pass reward,
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird:
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

 

Daniel Magdalen is a graduate student in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest, in Romania.

 


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22 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Your well-crafted description paired with this Williams piece was a real pleasure to experience, Daniel! You’ve treated us to an elegant fusion of language, music, nature, and feeling. Thank you for sharing this masterpiece!

    Reply
    • Daniel Magdalen

      Thank you very much, I am happy you liked it. I certainly enjoyed the musical masterpiece myself and found it quite inspiring and uplifting (just like Meredith’s poem).

      Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    Few 20th century compositions equal this work by Williams. It is one of my “go to” recordings when I am in need of spiritual renewal and refreshment. It is, for me, a prayer, equal to, if not greater than the poem which inspired it. Your meditation on the music (and the poem) captures much of my own emotional response but also offers some tantalizing glimpses into your own life experience. There is a story hidden in your words that I hope you will continue to tell in poems you will share with us in the future. The phrase, “A wordless poem crystallizes in the air,” is truely inspired and effective in capturing the spirit of the music. Well done, and thank you for the gift of your beautiful poem.

    Reply
    • Daniel Magdalen

      Thank you very much. I am also pleased to hear that Vaughan Williams’ musical romance touches you so because I, myself, find this piece (as well as some other works of his) to be truly spiritual, inspired and showing a rather deep understanding and expression of human nature. Besides, I never seem to get tired of listening to The Lark Ascending. This is something which, to me, proves the enduring, canonic quality of the work.

      Reply
    • Daniel Magdalen

      Great! Thank you and, yes, Vaughan Williams’ music and Meredith’s poem are quite touching and refreshing to the mind.

      Reply
  3. Jeff Nicholson

    Very wonderful! Reading your verses and Meredith’s work, while listening to the vibrant strings in Williams’ piece, effectively lifted me out of winter for the moment. Thank you for sharing this!

    Reply
  4. David Watt

    Your poem is beautiful, and cannot help but raise the spirits.
    The addition of Meredith’s work and accompanying music inspires to even greater heights.

    Reply
  5. David Hollywood

    Beautifully melancholy laced throughout with pastoral beauty, sufficient to touch the hearts ambitions. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Daniel Magdalen

    Please beware of an unknown commenter who, out of ill intention, has been recently posting profanities under my name, on this site. The specific target has been my poem “Listening to the Lark.” Nevertheless, (s)he could continue trying to slander, attack and sow discord by commenting on other pages as well. The best way to deal with this trivial and deceptive discourse, I think, is to ignore such messages and judiciously discern truth from falsehood.

    Reply

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