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Sickness Like Night


Spring, 2023

The Sonnet

Thou art like Night, O Sickness! deeply stilling
Within my heart the world's disturbing sound,
And the dim quiet of my chamber filling
With low sweet voices by Life's tumult drown'd,
Thou art like awful Night! - thou gather'st round
The things that are unseen--though close they lie, -
And with a truth, clear, startling, and profound,
Givest their dread presence to our mental eye.
- Thou art like starry, spiritual Night!
High and immortal thoughts attend my way
And revelations, which the common light
Brings not, though wakening with its rosy ray
All outward life: - Be welcome then thy rod,
Before whose touch my soul unfolds itself to God

This setting for Voice and Guitar is of the Sonnet 'Sickness Like Night' by Felicia Hemans. It comes from her sequence of seven sonnets entitled "Thoughts During Illness", and describes her delirious state of mind when the illness is at its worst. Felicia Hemans was born in Liverpool in 1793 but living most of her life in North Wales is considered by many as the country's leading woman poet of the early 19th century. She published 19 volumes in her lifetime and made her living, bringing up her three sons on her own after separation from her husband in 1818. She suffered serious illness and eventually died of consumption and heart failure following an episode of scarlet fever in 1835 at the young age of 41.

To listen of follow the score go to Audio Files or Video Scores. The guitar is played by the Puerto Rican composer John Rivera-Pico. At the beginning of the piece the D string is tuned a quarter tone flat - reflecting the metaphorical allusion to sickness as the body being out of tune with itself - hence 'Tuning this curious harp'.

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