Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prayer to Saint Catherine

It's wonderful that someone has posted a video of the excellent American baritone William Sharp singing Virgil Thomson's lovely song.

If I am to be preserved from heartache
and shyness
By Saint Catherine of Siena,
I am praying to her that she will hear my
And treat me in every way with kindness.

I went to Siena to Saint Catherine's
own church
(It is impossible to deny this)
To pray to her to cure me of my heartache
and shyness,
Which she can do, because she is a
great saint.

Other saints would regard my prayer
as foolish.
Saint Nicolas, for example.
He would chuckle, "God helps those who
help themselves,
Rouse yourself! Get out there and do
something about it!"

Or Saint Joanna. She would say, "It is
not shyness
That bothers you. It is sin.
Pray to Catherine of Siena." But that is
what I have done.
And that is why I have come here to cure
my heartache.

Saint Catherine of Siena,
If this song pleases you, then be good
enough to answer the prayer it contains.
Make the person that sings this song less
shy than that person is,
And give that person some joy in that
person's heart.

--Kenneth Koch


cnb said...

I have not read that poem before (nor heard the setting). I like it very much.

maria horvath said...

Oh, Pentimento, that is so beautiful it almost brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

My favorite verse by the same poet (not yet put to music but should be):


It is long since you were a lane.
Now you leave off being a street
And don’t become a highway yet.
You are cautious
But cautiously exploring what it might be
To be wider than you were before
And go farther, and be less familiar with trees.

~ Kenneth Koch (1925-2002)

Pentimento said...

"Less familiar with trees." That is gorgeous.

A colleague of mine in my doctoral program sang this in one of her recitals, and it was the first time I'd heard it. I really think it's one of the great pieces in the entire art song repertoire -- and as you probably know I'm a devotée of Brahms, and most of Virgil Thomson's output is not at this leel.