The libretto (below) consists of five poems by Wendell Berry, plus excerpts by Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and Sara Teasdale. When I first shared the compilation with my dear friend, Dr. Marc Ashley Foster, he beautifully encapsulated my intent: "The poems and excerpts take the reader/listener on a journey from hopeful wandering and wondering, through the valleys of despair and suffering, and finally arrive at a place of love and grace. Each movement explores a complex duality of emotions: fear/hope; hate/love; darkness/light; despair/peace. From our own life experience, we know that the cycle continues; the journey is never complete."
Scoring: SATB choir, soprano & baritone soloists, chamber orchestra
Instrumentation: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, strings
Duration: app. 30 minutes
Preview score: coming soon
Recording: coming soon
I. I Go Among Trees
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
from “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
Wendell Berry (b. 1934)
“Sabbath Poems” (1979, I)
II. Hate Has No World
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
John Keats (1795-1821)
Hate has no world.
The people of hate must try
to possess the world of love,
for it is the only world;
it is Heaven and Earth.
But as lonely, eager hate
possesses it, it disappears;
it never did exist,
and hate must seek another
world that love has made.
“Sabbath Poems” (1993, IV)
III. Whatever Happens
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
“Sabbath Poems” (1998, I)
IV. The Courage for Love
[To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin]
Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,
for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine
though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.
You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be
the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
“Sabbath Poems” (1995, V)
V. The Peace of Wild Things
I am wild, I will sing to the trees,
I will sing to the stars in the sky.
Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
I will sing a tune with words of love –
And never stop…
adapted from Dickinson
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“The Peace of Wild Things” (1968)
“Sabbath Poems” Copyright © 2013 by Wendell Berry, from This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems. Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press.
“The Peace of Wild Things” Copyright © 2012 by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems.
Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press.
Excerpts by Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and Sara Teasdale: Public Domain
Libretto compiled by Richard Waters.