A Dylan Thomas Song Cycle

Baritone and piano (1959)
Prelude (piano solo)
I have longed to move away

On a wedding anniversary

Was there a time?

In my craft or sullen art

On no work of words

Peter Dickinson's A Dylan Thomas Song Cycle was composed in New York, when he was a graduate student at The Juilliard School of Music. The first performance was given that year by Richard Eikenberry with the composer; the first British performance by Robin Fairhurst and Anthony Lindsay in London in 1965. Something of Dylan Thomas' blustering but lyrical address comes through in these settings of some of his most famous poems.

I. I Have Longed To Move Away
I have longed to move away

From the hissing of the spent lie

And the old terrors' continual cry

Growing more terrible as the day

Goes over the hill into the deep sea;

I have longed to move away

From the repetition of salutes,

For there are ghosts in the air

And ghostly echoes on paper,

And the thunder of calls and notes.

I have longed to move away but am afraid;

Some life, yet unspent, might explode

Cut of the old lie burning on the ground,

And, crackling into the night air, leave me half-blind.

Neither by night's ancient fear,

The parting of hat from hair,

Pursed lips at the receiver,

Shall I fall to death's feather.

By these I would not care to die,

Half convention and half lie.

II. On A Wedding Anniversary
The sky is torn across

This ragged anniversary of two

Who moved for three years in tune

Down the long walks of their vows.

Now their love lies a loss

And Love and his patients roar on a chain;

From every true or crater

Carrying cloud,
Death strikes their house.

Too late in the wrong rain

They come together whom their love parted:

The windows pour into their heart

And the doors burn into their brain.

III. Was There A Time
Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles 

In children's circuses could stay their troubles?

There was a time they could cry over books,

But time has set its maggot on their track.

Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.

What's never known is safest in this life.

Under the skysigns they who have no arms

Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost

Alone's unhurt, so the blind man sees best.

IV. In My Craft Or Sullen Art
In my craft or sullen art

Exercised in the still night

When only the moon rages

And the lovers lie aged

With all their griefs in their arms,

I labour by singing light

Not for ambition or bread

Or the strut and trade of charms

On the ivory stages

But for the common wages

Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart

From the raging moon I write

On these spindrift pages

Nor for the towering dead

With their nightingales and psalms

But for the lovers, their arms

Round the griefs of the ages,

Who pay no praise or wages

Nor heed my craft or art.

V. On No Work Of Words
On no work of words now for three lean months in the bloody

Belly of the rich year and the big purse of my body

I bitterly take to task my poverty and craft:

To take to give is all, return what is hungrily given 

Puffing the pounds of manna up through the dew to heaven,

The lovely gift of the gab bangs back on a blind shaft.

To lift to leave from the treasures of man is pleasing death

That will rake at last all currencies of the marked breath

And count the taken, forsaken mysteries in a bad dark.

To surrender now is to pay the expensive ogre twice.

Ancient woods of my blood, dash down to the nut of the seas

If I take to burn or return this world which is each man's work.

© 2008-20 Peter Dickinson