Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Seeing as how it’s National Poetry Month, as my fellow blogging singer-songwriter reminded me, I thought I’d post some of the poems I’ve set to music.

William Blake wrote this poem at the age of 14. I first set it to music -- a listless waltz -- when I was about 15. In my early 20s I re-set it to a much more suitable 4/4 one-chord mountain-style holler. I’ve played it in many arrangements with many people and still play it every once in a while. Blake a fave poet and thinker, this poem a fave, and the tune I wrote a personal fave too.

Some time long after I wrote my tune I heard the Fugs’ version. As I recall it’s a waltz, not unlike my first attempt at it. I have no idea how I could have heard the Fugs at that age. I still don’t know the Fugs’ music -- have only heard snippets -- but I dig Ed Sanders’ poetry, and his singing and synthesizer playing in the wonderful film Poetry in Motion is spell-bindingly beautiful.

(Disclaimer and aside: There was something in the paper today about the challenge the British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion faces in writing a celebratory wedding poem for Prince Charles and his royal squeeze. [I don’t know Motion’s stuff at all but I like that last name.] Motion’s challenge points to the utter absurdity of the U.S.’s recent adoption of the tradition of naming Poets Laureate. If a poet is moved to write an elegy in honor of Reagan’s death, or a panegyric on Bush’s 2nd inauguration, that’s fine, but we don’t have the tradition-infrastructure to institutionlize that role, and our so-called Poets Laureate have had no ceremonial duties, so what’s the point? Similarly, the idea of National Anything Month is rather Hallmark-y, but what the heck, if it gives people an excuse to discuss and learn more about what interests them.)

Here’s Blake’s untitled poem, originally published in a book of his early stuff put together by his friends, without his participation.

How sweet I roam'd from field to field,
     And tasted all the summer's pride,
Till I the prince of love beheld,
     Who in the sunny beams did glide!
He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
     And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
     Where all his golden pleasures grow.

With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
     And Phœbus fir'd my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
     And shut me in his golden cage.
He loves to sit and hear me sing,
     Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
      And mocks my loss of liberty.

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