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Night is a setting of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from her groundbreaking 1916 collection 'Sea Garden'. H.D. was a leading poet in the first half of the twentieth century, and closely connected with other important figures such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein. Her work vividly combines the influences of mythology, literary modernism, feminism and psychoanalysis, often drawing on imagery from wild nature as a vessel to explore human consciousness.
Ezra Pound described an early poem of H.D. like this: “it is in the laconic speech of the Imagistes.... Objective—no slither; direct—no excessive use of adjectives, no metaphors that won’t permit examination. It’s straight talk, straight as the Greek!” Her poetry tends to be quite bare and stark, perfect (I think) for a musical setting. So many poets are too overtly 'musical' already to be set to music, too florid, too polysyllabic, too multi-layered. But H.D. is as lean and concentrated as you get, and giving the words pitch and rhythm doesn’t seem to weigh them down too much (I hope!)
This particular poem is an exploration of night not as a place of gentle stillness and quietude but of quivering activity and destruction. The central image of the poem is of a flower stripped of its petals by the night, leaving only “the stark core of the rose” to “perish on the branch.” With my musical setting I’ve tried to capture a sense of immersion, an expansiveness that closes in, an unstoppable force taking whatever time it needs. I’ve generally treated the choir as single bulk to be sculpted, pushed and pulled, stretched and squashed by nocturnal forces (including the percussive battery of piano, bass drum and crotales).
Commissioned by Lachlan Craig and the Auckland Youth Choir
for Lachlan Craig and the Auckland Youth Choir
Text by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle): 'Night' from her collection, 'Sea Garden' (1916). Public Domain.