Meditation At Oyster River (2003)
for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra (or Piano)
From "Meditation At Oyster River" by Theodore Roethke

2. With These I Would Be  (5:25) 


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YouTube Video Oyster River Movement 2 (Libretto and notes below)

The self persists like a dying star,
In sleep, afraid. Death’s face rises afresh,
Among the shy beasts — the deer at the salt lick,
The doe, with its sloped shoulders, loping across the highway,
The young snake, poised in green leaves, waiting for its fly,
The hummingbird, whirring from quince blossom to morning-glory —
With these I would be.

And with water: the waves coming forward without cessation,
The waves, altered by sandbars, beds of kelp, miscellaneous driftwood,
Topped by cross-winds, tugged at by sinuous undercurrents,
The tide rustling in, sliding between the ridges of stone,
The tongues of water creeping in quietly.

MEDITATION AT OYSTER RIVER was written in the summer of 2003.  Though I have not written a great deal of vocal music, I have been drawn to Theodore Roethke's last book of poetry, The Far Field, for at least twenty five years.  In the early 1980's, I based a violin sonata on selected passages from the title poem.  I am drawn to the collection's natural imagery and insight.  And, though the prevailing subject matter centers around the poet's impending death, I have always been taken by the poetry's optimism and celebration of life.

As an artist, I sympathize with the poet in his identification of his life energy with his art.  Though the end of his life brings despair, it also brings inspiration.  That inspiration allows him to treasure his existence and come to terms with its limits.  

The poem, Meditation At Oyster River, seems to me to be a metaphor for how that life-nourishing inspiration emerged from under the shadow of death.  At first, it is just a single ripple, barely noticeable through the stillness.  But a lifetime of experience identifies its meaning.  A lifetime of seasons identifies the illusive scent of spring.  The poet sits on the riverbank and waits with patient excitement for what he knows is coming.  His tired body disguising his tingling flesh.  As the inspiration rushes over, he is revitalized and feels young again, turning his despair into wonder and irony.

After choosing the text, it still took me quite a while to come to terms with it, but I found this project to be enormously fulfilling, even cleansing.  I has been about 30 years since I last wrote a set of songs for my sister, Eleanor Stallcop/Horrox.  My views on many things both musical and non-musical have changed in the meantime.  However, my respect and admiration for her talents and abilities have grown steadily.  Hopefully, it does not take another 30 years for the next set.

"Meditation AT Oyster River", copyright © 1960 by Beatrice Roethke as administratrix of the estate of Theodore Roethke, from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF THEODORE ROETHKE by Theodore Roethke.  Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.