Sunday Poetry – Ursula Vaughan Williams

I’ve been listening to a lovely CD of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Chorus. What is special about this CD is that as well as the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, it also includes the Theme by Tallis, which I’d never heard before. It’s called Why Fum’th in Flight? It’s less than a minute long (listen to it here). Lovely to hear this & then go straight in to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia.

Edited to add : Coincidentally today’s Keys to Music program on ABC Classic FM features the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Graham Abbott explains the history of the work & its major points & it’s performed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. They also play another of my favourite Vaughan Williams pieces, Five Variants on Dives & Lazarus. You can listen to the program for a month here.

I had heard of Vaughan Williams’ widow, Ursula, & knew that she had written a biography of him. I didn’t know she was a poet until I came across this poem in my anthology. Called Penelope, it has echoes of the Odyssey updated to the 1940s.

Certain parting does not wait its hour
For separation; too soon the shadow lies
upon the heart and chokes the voice, its power
drives on the minutes, it implies
tomorrow while today’s still here.

They sat by firelight and his shadow fell
for the last time, she thought, black patterning gold
sharp on the firelit wall. So, to compel
the evening to outlast the morning’s cold
dawn by the quayside and the unshed tears,

she took a charred twig from the hearth and drew
the outline of his shadow on the wall.
‘These were his features, this the hand I knew.’
She heard her voice saying the words through all
the future days of solitude and fear.

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