Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Children

In my upcoming dissertation voice recital, I'm doing the recently-published Three Scottish Songs by James MacMillan. MacMillan has chosen texts from the work of poet William Soutar, who was a major figure in the Scottish Literary Revival of the early twentieth century in spite of the fact that he was confined to bed for most of his life with ankylosing spondylitis. One of these poems, "The Children," is about the Battle of Britain; Benjamin Britten set the same text in his cycle Who Are These Children?, composed in the late 1960s.

Upon the street they lie
Beside the broken stone:
The blood of children stares from the broken stone.

Death came out of the sky
In the bright afternoon:
Darkness slanted over the bright afternoon.

Again the sky is clear
But upon the earth a stain:
The earth is darkened with a darkening stain:

A wound which everywhere
Corrupts the hearts of men:
The blood of children corrupts the heart of men.

Silence is in the air:
The stars move to their places:
Silent and serene the stars move to their places.

There is a sixth stanza too, which MacMillan chose not to set:

But from the earth the children stare
With blind and fearful faces:
And our charity is in the children's faces.

The song is stark and chilling, with a sing-song, music-box effect. I'm not sure if it would be more or less disturbing with the addition of the last stanza. Without it, the deaths of the children bombed from the air seem to have occurred against the impersonal backdrop of unchanging nature. With it, we are all invoked and implicated.


Anonymous said...

Spanish Civil War, not Battle of Britain.

Pentimento said...

Thank you for the correction.