Version recorded for Ian Semple’s programme on CoastFM, but not actually used.
Tears of Morning (Housman-Harley)
Another Housman setting: words from Last Poems. I’ve followed the example of Michael Raven in using two separate (but consecutive) verses that are clearly connected thematically and in form, at least as far as this stand-alone song is concerned.
The half-moon westers low, my love,
And the wind brings up the rain;
And wide apart lie we, my love,
And seas between the twain.
I know not if it rains, my love,
In the land where you do lie;
And oh, so sound you sleep, my love,
You know no more than I.
The sigh that heaves the grasses
Whence thou wilt never rise
Is of the air that passes
And knows not if it sighs.
The diamond tears adorning
Thy low mound on the lea,
Those are the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.
Unfortunately, health issues make it very difficult for me to get out to play at present, and gigging doesn’t seem at all practical. On the other hand, at least not being able to get out has given me time to start working on a CD or two, though the chances of their becoming commercially available are pretty slim. Still, the details of the one that’s nearest to done are here: Selective Symmetry. If I can get some moderately decent packaging, I suppose I’ll give it away at the musical events I’m probably not going to get to…
Next up is a collection of my bluesier things (demos only), to be called Low In The Water.
Other possibilities are a collection of 1980s tracks recorded at CentreSound in the 1980s, a collection of material written/recorded with other people, some settings of verse by Housman, Yeats and Kipling, and a follow-up to Selective Symmetry (if SS ever gets out into the wide world) called How To Say Goodbye.
This is my setting of a poem by William Butler Yeats. I posted a recording of it in 2015, when I was essentially making it up as I went along, but coming back to it after a year or two, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
I suppose it’s appropriate to go back to this given the part of the country I now live in. 🙂
A setting of the poem by Rudyard Kipling. I have in mind a guitar accompaniment I’m not quite comfortable with yet, but this version is unaccompanied with some harmonies, and it may stay that way. The words and a few notes are available from this page. I believe Peter Bellamy used to sing a version set to ‘The White Cockade’, which I guess would readily lend itself to a more chorus-y version. In the 70s, I remember hearing a version to a different tune sung in Berkshire that used the second verse as a chorus.
Words by A.E. Housman, tune and arrangement by David Harley, 2015. All rights reserved.
One of my Housman settings. However, this one isn’t from A Shropshire Lad. Every so often, a tune just pops into my head and demands to be written. Strange how often that’s happened when reading Housman… I don’t own a lute (and haven’t tried to play one in decades), so I used my classic. I do love the lute, though I long ago gave up trying to play anything by Dowland.
The poem was apparently written by a very young Housman (15) for a play, as a song to be sung by Lady Jane Grey while in prison awaiting execution. It somewhat resembles a lyric by Louisa McCartney Crawford (1790–1858) set to music by George Arthur Barker as part of a sequence of Songs of Mary Queen of Scots – The Captivity opens with the line ‘Breathe, breathe my Lute that melting strain My soul delights to hear’. Clearly there are parallels in the context of the two lyrics. There again, filtering thoughts about one’s l poems to or about one’s lute is almost de rigeur for poets: consider ‘My Lute Awake’ and ‘The Lover’s Lute cannot be blamed though it sing of his Lady’s Unkindness’ by Thomas Wyatt, and even ‘Thou Art My Lute’ by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. (However, I am not currently considering an ode to my Strat.)
Breathe, my lute, beneath my fingers
One regretful breath,
One lament for life that lingers
Round the doors of death.
For the frost has killed the rose,
And our summer dies in snows,
And our morning once for all
Gathers to the evenfall.
Hush, my lute, return to sleeping,
Sing no songs again.
For the reaper stays his reaping
On the darkened plain;
And the day has drained its cup,
And the twilight cometh up;
Song and sorrow all that are
Slumber at the even-star.