Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 –1906), the son of parents who were slaves in Kentucky before the Civil War, was better known in his lifetime for writing dialect poetry and prose, but in recent years his more literary writing has attracted more attention and respect. Maya Angelou borrowed a line from ‘Sympathy’ for the title of her autobiography ‘I know why the caged bird sings’.
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!
For my setting of ‘Thou Art My Lute’ I’ve used a consciously archaic arrangement to suit the tone of the poem.
Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—
My being is attuned to thee.
Thou settest all my words a-wing,
And meltest me to melody.
Thou art my life, by thee I live,
From thee proceed the joys I know;
Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give
The meed of love—the cup of woe.
Thou art my love, by thee I lead
My soul the paths of light along,
From vale to vale, from mead to mead,
And home it in the hills of song.
My song, my soul, my life, my all,
Why need I pray or make my plea,
Since my petition cannot fall;
For I’m already one with thee!
A song written in the 1980s about the conflict Jorge Luis Borges described as “a fight between two bald men over a comb.”
Words & music (c) David Harley
The lads are on the march again: adrenaline is surging
Through the arteries of power
The gutter press is snarling, waving flags and beating chests
From the safety of its concrete Dockland towers
The price of bread is escalating and the jobs are getting scarce
But the circuses get bigger every year
If we lose the World Cup, God will give us back the Falklands
Before the latest Royal new-born appears
In the Corridors of Power, the game is Battleships:
Sink a few and lose a few – that’s Diplomacy
The body count gets higher, the planes and ships get fewer
The bereaved on both sides might agree
That the game’s not worth the candle standing by a single coffin
But there’s so much more at stake than death or life
There’s property and money and oil and mineral rights
And loss of face and patriotic pride.
The bombs and missiles blossom, and the gunfire pounds and pounds
The ears of friend and foe
The Belgrano and the Santa Fe, the Sheffield and Sir Tristram Death by death the roll of honour grows
Till the fighting fizzles out in bitter winter gales
Far too late for so many mothers’ sons
The guns have fallen silent, but the words are bayonet-sharp
And the propaganda war goes on
The hawks are praising God across the tombstones of the dead
A service is attended by the Queen
The Prime Minister spits blood because a timid man of God
Recalls the dead on both sides in ‘victory’
Peace in the South Atlantic; a bombing in Hyde Park
Bloody warfare in the Lebanon
We press on to self-destruction: even as this one war ends
The killing still goes on and on and on