Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Whither Must I Wander?

I was unfamiliar with Robert Louis Stevenson's Songs of Travel until I heard the musical settings composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (who is certainly my favorite English composer, and perhaps my favorite overall, as well). Of all of them, my favorite is certainly "Whither Must I Wander?" I typically prefer happy songs, but the melancholy beauty of Stevenson's poetry combined with Vaughan William's music is so poignant and breathtaking that it hurts--hurts in a way that does not make you want to avoid the pain, but rather embrace it.

Whither Must I Wander?
Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather:
Thick drives the rain and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree,
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door -
Dear days of old with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.

Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.

Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moorfowl,
Spring shall bring the sun and the rain, bring the bees and flowers;
Red shall the heather bloom over hill and valley,
Soft flow the stream through the even-flowing hours.
Fair the day shine as it shone on my childhood -
Fair shine the day on the house with open door;
Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney -
But I go for ever and come again no more.

If you would like to hear a clip of the musical setting, you can listen to it on Amazon -- Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel. I particularly like this album, sung by Roderick Williams. His voice is clear and deep, perfect for the tone of the poem.

This song reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for -- my chimney stone is not cold, nor is my roof lying in the dust. And best of all, my home is full of kindly faces. I find it difficult to even fathom what it would be like to lose those things.

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