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Markings - a Song Cycle


Completed 2018

Full text of the Song Cycle

Markings I: Thus is was

I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
In expectation.

Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds.
A clear pure note
In the silence.

(Markings, 1925)

Interlude I

The goldenrod stirs:
Milkwort’s white parachute
Is opened by the wind.

Far inland,
The freshness of the sea still played
Among leaves of light bronze

(Hudson Valley, Markings, 1959)

Markings II: The anguish of loneliness brings blasts from the storm centre of death

In a whirling fire of annihilation,
In the storm of destruction
And deadly cold of the act of sacrifice,
You would welcome death.
But when it slowly grows within you.
Day by day,
You suffer anguish,
Anguish under the unspoken judgment which hangs over your life,
While leaves fall in the fool's paradise.

(Markings, 1950)

Interlude II

Trees quiver in the wind,
Sailing on a sea of mist
Out of earshot.

Trees, waters, crescent moon -
All things tonight
In shivering osmosis.
Hudson Valley, Markings, 1959
Markings III: Over Poughkeepsie

The meadow’s massive
Green wave rises
Over the rolling ridge,
Crested with the white foam
Of a thousand oxeye daises
Which blush
As the midsummer sun
Sets scarlet
In a haze of heat
Over Poughkeepsie.

Seven weeks have gone by,
Seven kinds of blossom
Have been picked or mowed.
Now the leaves of the Indian corn grow broad,
And its cobs make much of themselves,
Waxing fat and fertile.
Was it here,
Here, that paradise was revealed
For one brief moment
On a night in midsummer?

(Markings, 1961)

Interlude III

A warm autumn night. A moon
Lighting this path—
Far away a heart stops.

The cicadas shrieked
As the glowing sky consumed
Their last evening.

(Hudson Valley, Markings, 1959)

Markings IV: A new Country

I awoke
To an ordinary morning with grey light
Reflected from the street,
But still remembered
The dark-blue night
Above the treeline,
The open moor in moonlight,
The crest in the shadow.
Remembered other dreams
Of the same mountain country:
Twice I stood on its summits,
I stayed by its remotest lake,
And followed the river towards its source.
The seasons have changes
And the light
And the weather
And the hour.
But it is the same land
And I begin to know the map
And to get my bearings.

(Markings, 1961, less than one month before he died.)

A Song cycle of poems by Dag Hammarkskjöld, translated by WH Auden.
Dag Hammarskjöld served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was killed in a plane accident travelling to hold peace talks in the Congo in 1961. Throughout his life he kept a journal, Vägmärken, a collection of poems and reflections which was found after his death in his New York flat with a note to the Swedish Permanent Under-secretary for Foreign Affairs, Leif Belfrage. Giving him permission to publish them, he referred to the diary as ‘a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself – and God.’ They were translated into English by Leif Sjoberg and W.H. Auden, the latter taking great care in particular over the many Haiku Hammarskjöld composed. Pairs of these act as interludes in this song cycle placed between four ‘songs’ that appear in chronological order, so as to maintain the sense of a ‘life’s quest’ which comes across strongly in the original journal. Generally, Hammarskjöld did not give his poetry titles (the exception being the first diary entry, Thus is was) so I have either used adjacent text, or a line from the poem.

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