Initiation (Rainer Maria Rilke) set to music

For week 20 of #songaweek2021 I turned to Rilke for my lyrics. I’d saved this poem with other song ideas I had but I wasn’t clear on its title. An internet search brought me to another WordPress blogger’s post about the same poem, from almost exactly a year ago! The blogger, Jeff Japp, gives two possible interpretations of the poem. And then a commenter asked if it might also be “the-end-of-quarantine poem” – and I hadn’t even thought of that but maybe that’s why I was drawn to this particular poem in this particular week as life around me starts to feel so much more opened up again (a year out from that original comment!).

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.

Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.

And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.

Joke

New Year’s Day 2020

It could be a cruel joke
that the sun keeps coming up
the years keep rolling out
and you and I grow older
withering back to the void
from whence we came

but maybe it’s a generous one
delightful, robust, profound
that we grow and learn and pick it all up
till we shrink, forget, let it all go
and nobody really knows at all
no matter what they know
and peace
at last
as ever
drops
like a bomb from the blue
or the longest-running
loveliest
joke
in the cosmos.

Talk About the Weather

This song started with an idea I saved on my phone in August, which ended up being most of the melody and one line of the lyrics (“talk about the weather while I pull myself together”).

In trying to fill out this idea, I read back through my journal for the year and came across a dream I had shortly after being at my friend Troy’s funeral. That became the second verse.

I had a tune idea for the chorus but couldn’t come up with any words, so I searched through the public domain poems I’ve got filed away for possible writing use, and decided on “What If You Slept?” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem is italicized in the song lyrics below.

This is another song that certainly needs more work, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever come back to it. Week 40 of #songaweek2018 was a week of getting the job done, not making a masterpiece!

It has turned out to fit well with this week’s weather though. And as always, I’m glad I took the time to write.

Today I feel I’ve said it all before
So let’s just talk about the weather while I pull myself together
My big ideas are a bigger bore
But how bout all this rain that’s falling?
Is it cold enough for you?

I dreamed my heart got buried with my friend
and that I didn’t even know it but that’s why I was stoic when they
Laid him down in the April ground
And how bout all this rain that’s falling?
Is it cold enough for you?

What if you slept and what if
In your sleep you dreamed

And what if in your dream
You went to heaven and there plucked
A strange and beautiful flower . . .

Some days all we can do is make it through
Just smile and talk about the weather try to keep it all together
Why is it home looks better when you’ve left
And how bout all this rain that’s falling
Is it cold enough for you?

. . .and what if when you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

 

The Last Rose of Summer

Today my youngest went back to school, so for the first time in months, it’s just the dog and me at home. Which means I’m looking forward to giving some more focused attention to songwriting and recording for the remaining weeks of #songaweek2018.

And it also means that for last week, week 35, in which only my son was home because his sister had already started at her school, I took the quick and easy route for my songwriting so I could spend more time with him. We played a lot of Doctor Who Fluxx and then on Friday we packed everybody up and drove out to North Dakota where we camped with family at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the badlands of NoDak, which is a long desolate drive from most anywhere people live but worth it. Beautiful and even on Labor Day weekend, not too crowded. (Also we witnessed a bison stampede while hiking, with wild horses just meters in front of us!)

But I digress. The quick and easy route for songwriting means I pick a public domain poem I’ve filed away for possible future use, and I write a tune for it. The title of this one by Thomas Moore made it the obvious choice! (If you follow the link on his name, you can hear a recording of another song made using the poem and recorded in 1914. Makes sense that I’m not the first to set it to music.)

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone:
No flower of her kindred,
No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither’ d,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

My Own Heart

With over seven billion people in the world now and the Internet giving many of us instant access to publish whatever we create, it’s easy to completely ignore all the good work that’s come before us. That’s partly why I enjoy setting old poems to music. It’s a little like sneaking vegetables into casseroles for picky kids.

Another reason is because it helps me engage on a deeper level with a poem, because I’m reading and speaking and singing it over and over as I work out a rhythm and a melody. The words get to work on me more than when I just read them straight through.

And usually by the time I’m finished making a poem into a song, I also have it memorized – a mental exercise I don’t perform enough in my post-academic life.

Here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “My Own Heart,” with more or less the chords from that old favorite “Heart and Soul.” My song for week 18 of #songaweek2018.

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

The Gift to Sing

Well here we are at week 40 of #songaweek2016. I joined the second week, so this is my 39th weekly song. I set to music James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Gift to Sing,” that cheered me up in yet another week of feeling homesick (and fall gathering around me, bringing darker nights and mornings and more melancholy in general).

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day –
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

Once I Knew a Fine Song

For week 28 of #songaweek2016, I called on Stephen Crane – well, his poetry – for a little help. Here’s a poem of his that I set to music.

Once, I knew a fine song,
— It is true, believe me —
It was all of birds,
And I held them in a basket;
When I opened the wicket,
Heavens! They all flew away.
I cried, “Come back, little thoughts!”
But they only laughed.
They flew on
Until they were as sand
Thrown between me and the sky.

(published 1896, public domain)

Blinding Noise

Here’s my song for Week 18 of #songaweek2016. I took a poem I had written last year about my fascination and frustration with the Internet, and set it to music, sort-of loud music:

No no disconnect me

from the bluster and brooding

from the bright and blare

This is a hole in my heart

This is a tunnel to somewhere

I can’t remember

and can’t get back

and cannot banish

it

will not vanish

Thoughts transfer

from brain to brain

meat brain

to silicon brain

I have cut out the middleman

skipped the paperwork.

All this high-tech transcendence

makes me dizzy

I am falling down a hole

falling down a tunnel to somewhere

I can’t remember

and can’t get back

cannot banish

it

will not vanish

Sleep baby sleep

your dreams have all been written

watch the screen

breathe easy

lullaby

LOL-a-bye.

 

One Poet to Another

Grabbing some moments at the coffeeshop and combing through old computer files, felt like it was time to post a little something. So here, a poem about poems:

One Poet to Another
2/18/13 Julia Tindall Bloom

When I remark that my poems are not as good as yours
I am not denying their breathing reality.
They are real-live poems
I know, I was there at the birth of each and every one.
I am only admitting
That I love them too blindly
Keep them too close
To see them straight
And seeing the healthy bodies of yours
Functioning beautifully
Independent of your protection
I recognize my babies still have some growing to do
And so does my love.

Dark and Dawn and Dag Hammarskjold

In the soundless depths before dawn
you are with me.
You are not only in the lightening of the sky
but also in the embracing dark of this room.
I wait for you
with you
and the morning
like the night
is faithful.

^What I wrote this morning,
and then
what I read:

“To preserve the silence within – amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness, where the rain falls and the grain ripens – no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.”

And also this:

“Is your disgust at your emptiness to be the only life with which you fill it?”

^Both quotations from Markings by Dag Hammarskjold