Samuel Barber

 

Hermit songs

Set by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), op. 29
Texts from Anonymous Irish poetry

 

1. At Saint Patrick's Purgatory

Pity me on my pilgrimage to Loch Derg! 
0 King of the churches and the bells 
bewailing your sores and your wounds, 
but not a tear can I squeeze from my eyes!  
Not moisten an eye after so much sin!  
Pity me, 0 King!
What shall I do with a heart that seeks only its own ease?
0 only begotten Son by whom all men were made, 
who shunned not the death by three wounds, pity me on my pilgrimage to 
 Loch Derg 
and I with a heart not softer than a stone!

 

2. Church bell at night

Sweet little bell, struck on a windy night, 
I would liefer keep tryst with thee 
than be with a light and foolish woman.

 

3. Saint lta's vision

"I will take nothing from my Lord," said she,
"unless He gives me His Son from Heaven 
In the form of a Baby that I may nurse Him".  
So that Christ came down to her 
in the form of a Baby and then she said: 
"Infant Jesus, at my breast,
Nothing in this world is true 
Save, 0 tiny nursling, You.
Infant Jesus at my breast,
By my heart every night,
You I nurse are not a churl
But were begot on Mary the Jewess 
By Heaven's light.
Infant Jesus at my breast,
What King is there but You who could 
Give everlasting good?
Wherefore I give my food.
Sing to Him, maidens, sing your best!
There is none that has such right
To your song as Heaven's King
Who every night
Is Infant Jesus at my breast".

 

4. The heavenly banquet

I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house;
with vats of good cheer laid out for them. 
I would like to have the three Mary's, 
their fame is so great.
I would like people from every corner of Heaven.  
I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus sitting here among them. 
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven's family
Drinking it through all eternity.

 

5. The crucifixion

At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify Thee, 0 Swan!
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne
By the body of Mary's Son,
But sorer still to Him was the grief
Which for His sake
Came upon His Mother.

 

6. Sea-snatch

It has broken us, it has crushed us, 
it has drowned us, 0 King of the starbright 
Kingdom of Heaven!
The wind has consumed us, swallowed us, 
as timber is devoured by crimson fire from Heaven.  
It has broken us, it has crushed us, 
it has drowned us, 0 King of the starbright Kingdom of Heaven!

 

7. Promiscuity

I do not know with whom Edan will sleep,
but I do know that fair Edan will not sleep alone.

 

8. The monk and his cat

Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
Alone together, Scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me study.
Your shining eye watches the wall;
my feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse;
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his own art
Neither hinders the other;
Thus we live ever
without tedium and envy.
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
Alone together, Scholar and cat.

 

9. The praises of God

How foolish the man who does not raise
His voice and praise with joyful words,
As he alone can, Heaven's High King.
To whom the light birds with no soul but air,
All day, everywhere laudations sing.

 

10. The desire for hermitage

Ah! To be all alone in a little cell 
with nobody near me; 
beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death.
Singing the passing hours to cloudy Heaven;
Feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring.  
That will be an end to evil when I am alone 
in a lovely little corner among tombs 
far from the houses of the great.
Ah! To be all alone in a little cell, to be alone, all alone:
Alone I came into the world 
alone I shall go from it.
 

 

Sure on this shining night

Text by James Agee (1909-1955), "Description of Elysium", from Permit Me Voyage (1934). Stanzas 6-8.
Set by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), op. 13 no. 3.


Sure on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
 
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
 
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
wandering far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

 

Nocturne

Text by Frederic Prokosch (b. 1908)
Set by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), op. 13 no. 4.


Close my darling both your eyes,
Let your arms lie still at last.
Calm the lake of falsehood lies
And the wind of lust has passed,
Waves across these hopeless sands
Fill my heart and end my day,
Underneath your moving hands
All my aching flows away.
 
Even the human pyramids
Blaze with such a longing now:
Close, my love, your trembling lids,
Let the midnight heal your brow,
Northward flames Orion's horn,
Westward th' Egyptian light.
None to watch us, none to warn
But the blind eternal night.
 

Three Songs

Set by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), op. 45


1. Now have I fed and eaten up the rose

Text by James Joyce (1882-1941), after the German of Gottfried Keller (1819-1890)

 
Now have I fed and eaten up the rose
Which then she laid within my stiffcold hand.
That I should ever feed upon a rose
I never had believed in liveman's land.
 
Only I wonder was it white or red
The flower that in the [darkness]* my food has been.
Give us, and if Thou give, thy daily bread,
Deliver us from evil, Lord, Amen.
 

2. A green lowland of pianos

Text by Czeslaw Milosz, after the Polish of Jerzy Harasymowicz

 
in the evening
as far as the eye can see
herds
of black pianos
 
up to their knees
in the mire
they listen to the frogs
 
they gurgle in water
with chords of rapture
 
they are entranced
by froggish, moonish spontaneity
 
after the vacation
they cause scandals
in a concert hall
during the artistic milking
suddenly they lie down
like cows
 
looking with indifference
at the white flowers
of the audience
 
at the gesticulating
of the ushers
 
[black pianos, black pianos]+
 

3. O boundless, boundless evening

Text by Christopher Middleton, after the German of Georg Heym.

 
O boundless, boundless evening. Soon the glow
Of long hills on the skyline will be gone,
Like clear dream country now, rich-hued by sun.
O boundless evening where the cornfields throw
The scattered daylight back in an aureole.
Swallows high up are singing, very small.
On every meadow glitters their swift flight,
In woods of rushes and where tall masts stand
In brilliant bays. Yet in ravines beyond
Between the hills already nests the night.