Thirty years ago I came across a book of popular song lyrics from Somalia that struck me as amazingly fresh and intimate, despite their (to me) exotic imagery of lions, tall grass by the sea and tribal elders. I paraphrased them into my own English language poems and set them (perhaps badly) in a now withdrawn choral piece that only saw the light of day briefly during my wedding in the late 1980’s. (It must not have been THAT bad- I’m still happily married!)
A year ago I found these texts again and felt that they deserved to live again and so set them in a new piece with the same title but this time for tenor voice, flute and piano. This is arch romanticism, and no apologies for it a’tall… I’m a card-carrying romantic from the beginning.
For those of you who enjoy theory, the whole piece is built on an octatonic scale- eight notes in the scale in the pattern of alternating whole and half steps. It gives the piece a slightly exotic tonality that you can’t quite put your finger on…
Here are the texts:
Lovely as the lightening in the dawn
I have longed to speak to you.
I have seen you, I have watched you,
I have seen you sitting among the tall grass by the sea.
I long for you as one whose boat in summer winds is blown adrift and lost
longs for land and finds only gray and empty sea.
All your young beauty is to me
Like a place where the young grass sways
After the blessing of the rain
When the sun reveals its light.
My eyes draw me toward your charms
As to a garden at the cliff’s edge.
When you die, all delight will be stilled
By the silence of the earth. So come!
Do not let the voices of the old ones
Drive you from your song.
Until I die, I shall not give up the love song.
Of God, forgive me my weakness.
My heart is single and cannot be divided
And it is fastened on a single hope-
Oh you, who might be the moon…