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The Silver Swan -- Orlando Gibbons

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1491) The Silver Swan
 The silver swan, who living had no note,
 When death approach'd, unlock'd her silent throat;
 Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
 Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
 Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
 More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
-- Orlando Gibbons
I searched the archives and noticed that Orlando Gibbons's "The Silver
Swan" hasn't yet appeared.

First published in The first Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5. Parts,
1612, "The Silver Swan" -- whence the cliché "swan song;" and so pithy
it could be a graffito -- is often credited to "Anonymous," but the
Norton Anthology considers that Gibbons (1583-1625) wrote the words as
well as the music. He was one of the last of the madrigalists and may
have been "mourning the demise of his art," as Norton has it. But beyond
being the leading composer of his generation he was also a pioneer of
one of the greatest periods of chamber and sacred choral music under
James I and Charles I, in which English composers continued to be
pre-eminent in Europe. Perhaps Gibbons wasn't talking about madrigals in
particular so much as the Renaissance musical tradition which flourished
under Elizabeth I, more broadly the Elizabethan efflorescence of the
arts and letters in general, and more broadly still, the religious and
political stability that Elizabeth maintained and the Stuarts
squandered. By 1612 Shakespeare and his contemporaries were gone or soon
to be so; the King James Bible had just been published in a vain attempt
to resolve the religious tensions among people of various reforming and
conserving tendencies; and Henry IV of France's quip that James was the
wisest fool in Christendom had already become famous.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

64 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Elizabeth West said...

Could this poem and madrigal be, as well, a nod of appreciation to Mary
Sidney who lived until 1621 and may have written what is attributed to
Shakespeare? Look into a new book (out this spring, 2006) called "Sweet
Swan of Avon: did a woman write Shakespeare?" by Robin P. Williams
(Wilton Press) -- a great read to add to the lively list of books and
articles about "who was the author of the plays and sonnets, if not
Shakespeare?" She was the younger, very talented, well-married sister of
Sir Philip Sidney and she loved music as well as writing and ...well,
read the book or go online to the Mary Sidney Society and learn more.
Please let me know if you fine the book of interest: Elizabeth West,
Librarian

Anonymous said...

very lovely piece of music

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Orlando Gibbons is so mellow ! I prefer Bukowski than this one.

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