Three sonnets of Longfellow (Peter Bird)

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  • (Posted 2015-02-09)  CPDL #34519:         
Editor: Peter Bird (submitted 2015-02-09).   Score information: Letter, 31 pages, 350 kB   Copyright: CC BY SA
Edition notes: First 23 pages are choral score (and text pages); following pages are the organ part.

General Information

Title: Three sonnets of Longfellow
Composer: Peter Bird
Lyricist: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SecularArt song

Language: English
Instruments: Organ

First published: 2015
Description: This piece contains three sonnets:

  1. Mezzo cammin
  2. The sound of the sea
  3. The poets

Total length is 10 minutes.

These Romantic sonnets described three critical moments in Longfellow's life as a poet: the mid-life crisis which impelled him to start writing seriously; a time when inspiration flowed freely like the tides of the sea; and a moment of retrospection in which he identifies with all poets, past and present.

External websites:

Original text and translations

English.png English text

1. Mezzo cammin
Half my life is gone, and I have let
the years slip from me and have not fulfilled
the aspiration of my youth: to build
some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
of restless passions that would not be stilled,
but sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
kept me from what I may accomplish yet.
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
lying beneath me with its sounds and sights …
—A city in the twilight dim and vast,
with smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights—
and hear above me on the autumnal blast
the cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

2. The sound of the sea
The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
and round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
rush onward with uninterrupted sweep:
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
a sound mysteriously multiplied
as of a cataract from the mountain's side,
or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us, at times, from the unknown
and inaccessible solitudes of being,
the rushing of the sea-tides of the soul.
And inspirations that we deem our own
are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
of things beyond our reason or control.

3. The poets
O ye dead Poets who are living still,
immortal in your verse, though life be fled;
and ye, O living Poets, who are dead
though ye are living, if neglect can kill:
Tell me if in the darkest hours of ill,
with drops of anguish falling fast and red
from the sharp crown of thorns upon your head,
ye were not glad your errand to fulfil?
Yes; for the gift and ministry of Song
have something in them so divinely sweet,
it can assuage the bitterness of wrong.
Not in the clamor of the crowded street,
not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng,
but in ourselves are triumph and defeat.