A Ring of Light for High Voice and Piano

Lawrence Kramer

About this work:

This is the earliest of three song cycles composed to poems of my own.  It begins
as a cycle of love songs cast in a mode of reminiscence.  But although the songs
never wholly lose that character, the beginning is deceptive.  The third song abruptly expands the frame of reference beyond the personal.  The change haunts the nostalgic fourth song and reaches a long plateau of culmination—driven or ecstatic or both, take your pick—in the fifth.

The texts may be used freely in notes for performances or recordings.

1. The Waking Dream

More than once, at first light,
half-waking, I've seen your face
returning with daylight, and slept again:
as if the morning watched my sleep,
protected now, and charged with presence
that hour. Little enough:
little enough the image.
But what could be enough?

2. Nocturne

There was a street whose changing moods
were a joy of ours; there were times
when I talked with the earth
in familiar terms, nights
I deciphered its voices and silences.
Some song I liked once runs through my head.
There were closed shops and misty trees
and nothing reproached me for being mere.\
And at times some were with me,
by my side-not so many, yet
more than I can remember. I
see again the color of a jacket, or the loose
swirl of a scarf, or certain roads,
such certain nights.
Bedtime. The new-fallen snow fills the room
with a soft shining. A book lies open
on a table. Sleep calls me home.

3. A Ring of Light

"I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light"
in which we slept, blent it seemed
in oblivious shining thoughts
that rhyme our breath. Then from that ring
of light I woke, I grew afraid,
utterly baffled and lost, lost with the sirens
in the city night. Some homeless beggar
shuts unseeing eyes; Eurydice dies
in the ambulance; the alarm clock
ticks like a bomb. I fall into sleep
like a light drizzle, thinking of your hair
or shoulders in the dark. If I saw them
at daybreak, in the blue-violet light,
they could well shut me out like a blind.

4. Retrospect

We came to know where light welled up
in streams, and flowed into pools:
we came to dip in and bask, drowned
with abundance. We saw
how the blue of the day looks
in its naked sleep, so that the sweetly
troubled flesh glows with its luster.
We found the beauty of descents,
how lighted windows shine as the streets
grow dark, and the traffic clumps and thins.
We learned, it seemed, to wither and bud again,
hard though that is, hard to consent and be,
like earliest crocus, too soon golden,
too soon gone.

5. Your Name in Lights

They were the lights! They were the lights that flashed across the lake and filled the moonless sky with its ten thousand terraces of shine:

They were the lights! They were the lights of cities dancing in the distance, whorls and petals, spirals and bridges and towers of light:

They were the lights with which a quickening body will seem to turn to you alone until such bodies are a flood of dawn:

They were the lights! They were the lights of the enormous unappeasable and tender sea as it sets its gifts on the shore, the weeds good for snapping and the glistening shells:

They were the lights of the huge sun pressed like a bee to the new cups of the crocus, the lights glinting and darting as the eye fills with almost too much vision, petal and flower and terrace and shell and all:

They were the lights, they were the lights, they were the lights!

Version: 2009
Year composed: 1986
Duration: 00:00:00
Ensemble type: Voice, Solo or With Chamber or Jazz Ensemble:Solo Voice with Keyboard

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