Monday, 16 November 2009

Today: Natalie Merchant and Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught a rather interesting item on the Today programme as I was driving into work this morning. It was a "package" about some concerts that Natalie Merchant is presenting in the London, the Hague and in Berlin at the moment, featuring songs from an album due to be released in the new year. News of the concerts can be found here - London venues all sold out. A wikipedia article about Natalie is here.

According to the Today piece, Natalie set poems written by others to music for the forthcoming album. With children to look after, she did not have the time and peace to write her own music from scratch. She has chosen poems with children in mind, some of them being poems that can be used to introduce children to difficult topics.

One of  the poems she has set to music is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Natalie describes it as being a poem that introduces children to death in nature around them, and so to their own death; on her first reading of it, Natalie cried without quite understanding why.  It is called "Spring and Fall: to a young child".  I was struck by how warmly and knowledgeably Natalie Merchant spoke about Gerard Manley Hopkins in the package. Just catching the beginning of her song setting of "Spring and Fall" made me wonder whether or not it actually provides a very good way into reading the Gerard Manley Hopkins poetry, with a natural recognition in the sung format of the demands of his sprung rhythm.

If you have access to the Oxford Authors 1986 edition of Hopkins poetry and prose, the notes to this poem are useful in this regard, and reflect Natalie Merchant's own understanding of the poem. Poem on p.152, notes on pp.365-366.

To a Young Child

Márgarét, are you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
To catch the Today programme package, go to the listen again page, select Monday 16th November and scroll down to find it at 7:49. This will be available for one week only.

1 comment:

Malcolm Triggs said...

thanks - I caught the end of the piece and wanted to listen to it as I like Natalie Merchant's work and thought the music sounded fabulous. Grateful that your blog ended with both the poem and a link to the BBC site whereon I found what I was looking for!
Malcolm Triggs, Ashford, Kent