The first two chapters of
(Poem #423) The Song of Songs
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions? If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents. I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots. Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold. We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver. While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof. A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. ... I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please. The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice. My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes. My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
(Attributed to Solomon in the Old Testament; also known as the 'Song of Solomon') (English translation: the King James Version of the Bible, 16th century) I've spent most of the last 5 days listening to Palestrina's choral setting of the Song of Songs ('Cantica Canticorum', in Latin), and all I can say is, Ooh. (Digression: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was a 16th century composer of sacred music. From the CD liner notes: 'The music of Palestrina represents undoubtedly the artistic culmination of the church music reform advocated by the Council of Trent in the age of the Counter-Reformation... Palestrina [had unmatched] skill in the creation of a superb correspondence between text and music, and thus [fulfilled] an urgent demand rising out of pastoral considerations... [F]or the individual educated in the spirit of humanism, a composition doing full justice to a text required not only the proper choice of musical figures in accordance with the natural flow of the text to be set - certainly this as well - but also an intellectual pervasiveness in which language, textual content, onomatopoeic interpretation with musical figures, rhythm and euphony were combined to create a harmonious whole in compliance with what at that time was considered Beauty. It is this lofty idea of harmony and beauty - for that age the best conceivable integration of intellect and artistic form, of internal clarity and creative truth, of a classical sense of balance and order - which is Palestrina's legacy to the world.' and from Brittanica: '[Palestrina's] 29 motets based on texts from the Song of Solomon afford numerous examples of "madrigalisms": the use of suggestive musical phrases evoking picturesque features, apparent either to the ear or to the eye, sometimes to both.' Incidentally, I read elsewhere that Bach was a keen student of Palestrina's works - not surprising, given the contexts in which they wrote music and the many similarities in their work). The point of this long (but interesting, don't you think?) digression is to restate a thesis I've made previously on the Minstrels: matching lyrics to text is _hard_. I've mentioned a few popular musicians in this regard (see the links below), but their art cannot compare with the greats of antiquity - Mozart's arias, Bach's cantatas, and Palestrina's masses. For example, there's a bit in today's piece which goes 'filii matris meae pugnaverunt contra me' ('my mother's children were angry with me' - see the second verse above); the softness and delicate beauty of the preceding line suddenly swells into overwhelming emotion when the singers reach the phrase 'contra me' - the effect is powerful, moving, and absolutely glorious. As I said before, Ooh. thomas. PS. The poem itself? Lyrical, sensuous, and frankly erotic - gorgeous stuff. [Minstrels Links] poem #114, poem #287, poem #299. - all include short essays on the difficulties faced by lyricists (as opposed to 'pure' poets). The first two are by myself; the third is a guest poem submitted by Amit Chakrabarti. We've actually covered quite a bit of popular music on the Minstrels, from Dylan, Simon and Cohen to Willie Dixon and Richard Thompson. You can read their work, and much much more, at the Minstrels website, http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ [Glossary] 'spikenard' - a fragrant ointment, derived from a Himalayan aromatic plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) of the valerian family. 'the voice of the turtle' - refers to the turtledove, not the slow and steady critter.