Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday Night Services

I sing in an amateur choir, which my wife and I auditioned for about a year ago. I've never really done anything like it before, and, frankly, I'm a little out of my league surrounded by so many experienced singers. But I really enjoy the weekly chance to step out of the daily punishments of life and just create beautiful music.

We've just started working up our spring repertoire, and one of the pieces we're doing is Morten Lauridsen's Sure On This Shining Night. I have a hard time singing this, even though it's still in "practice mode" (I can only imagine where we'll be in two months!) because it is so spiritually moving to me. I literally choke up at certain points. Yet the lyrics are completely secular, based on the poem by James Agee--

Sure on this shining night
Of star-made shadows round
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground

The late year lies down the north,
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth,
Hearts all whole

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
Wandring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

I don't have a good place to recommend for a professional recording of this, but YouTube has a pretty good recording of a Taiwanese group performing it. It doesn't do it justice compared to performing it, but I just find this a truly beautiful piece of poetry and music.

When my Sunday's leave me feeling frustrated and generally unfulfilled, it's nice to know I communion with God (to the extent an agnostic can) every Monday.


Blogger Carolyn said...

I, too had a similar experience in my amateur choir this week. We are singing the same song and it haunts me with its beauty.

I am LDS, too. As I've struggled with some very difficult issues this week, and prayed, this song keeps coming back to me as comfort.

My husband and I have tried to interpret the lyrics. Is there anyone who is better at poetry who can help me understand the meaning of Agee's beautiful words?

February 16, 2008 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

Welcome, welcome. Nice to find a fellow LDS vocalist wandering through...

March 3, 2008 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger DivaDea said...

Hello! I am a choir director researching Sure on this Shining Night for my program notes (although we are doing the original Barber, not the Lauridsen) this season. What a lovely post you wrote. I hope you will stick with the singing and allow yourself to enjoy it fully!
Best wishes to you.

March 25, 2008 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger magyar said...

does anyone understand the meaning of the words in Barber's "sure on this shining night?"if so, could you explain, thanks

January 1, 2009 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Jessi said...

Found this randomly on my own search for understanding of these lyrics. I sang this song a few years ago with my University Choir at Carnegie Hall. Randomly, I am also LDS. This coincidence is almost unsettling. But I digress.

The original poem is from a book of poetry by James Agee titled "Permit Me Voyage." In that book is a section of poetry titled "Description of Elysium."

Elysium is from Greek mythology and it refers to a park of the underworld. This part was reserved for those who were heroic and virtuous in their lives - thus blessed by Zues. It was believed that the way to Elysium was across the ocean. This trip was after death, and not the cause of death.

Considering the bigger picture, take another look at the words. This is my own interpretation of these words, and it is important to note that I have read the rest of the poem (which I will share in a minute) and that it is only an interpretation, influenced by my own life experiences.

Surely, tonight
when the stars are shining brightly
There will be peace for my soul,
here on earth.
The year has gone by quickly,
Winter is over, the earth is healed
And now the summer is here.
Every one else's hearts are whole, they have their loved ones.
But I weep,
As I wander alone.

I love it - I absolutley do. It speaks of love that surpass all distances. Here is the rest of the poem.

"Lay down, your sweet and weary head.
Night is falling. You have come to journey’s end.

Sleep now, and dream of the ones who came before.
They are calling, from across a distant shore.

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see.
All of your fears will pass away.
Safe in my arms,
you’re only sleeping.

What can you see, on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises.
The ships have come, to carry you home.

And all will turn, to silver glass.
A light on the water.
All souls pass.

Hope fades, Into the world of night.
Through shadows falling, Out of memory and time.

Don’t say, We have come now to the end.
White shores are calling. You and I will meet again.
And you’ll be here in my arms, Just sleeping.

What can you see, on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises.
The ships have come, to carry you home.

And all will turn, to silver glass.
A light on the water.
Grey ships pass into the West."

It almost makes me want to cry because of the tenderness, the survivor comforting his loved one, as peacefully pass into the next life. Asking for Kindness to comfort them as they in turn comfort their love. So sweet.

Of course, one more time, this is my own opinion, so take it for what's it's worth. :)

March 28, 2009 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...


Thanks for the extended comment. This makes sense in relation to Lauridsen's other Nocturnes, Soneto de la Noche in particular. We're singing that this season, and it's translation moves me to tears almost every time I read it (especially while we're singing):

When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time:
I want to feel the gentleness that changed my desinty.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want your ears to still hear the wind,
I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,
and to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living,
and you whom I loved and sang above all things
to keep flowering into full bloom,

so that you can touch all that my love provides you,
so that my shadow may pass over your hair,
so that all may know the reason for my song.

March 31, 2009 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Jessi said...

"Extended comment." Haha, you mean ridiculously long comment! I didn't realize how long it was until after I'd clocked the "publish" button.

That really is beautiful. I wish I could hear it - I love Lauridson.

March 31, 2009 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Inês said...

Jessi said that the continuation of the poem "Sure on this shining night" was "Lay down, your sweet and weary head.
Night is falling. You have come to journey’s end". However, I did some research and the authors of this poem are Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox.

August 26, 2009 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Que said...

This is so weird. I'm LDS too. And I LOVE the Lauridsen arrangement of this song. The University of Utah has a great recording on Youtube.

January 9, 2011 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Jessica @ One Shiny Star said...

I don't know where Inês got their information - but James Agee wrote the lyrics to "Sure on this Shining Night" - the poem. Perhaps those other people has something else to do with the song?

Que - I'll have to look it up. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

January 10, 2011 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger A.C.ROBBINS said...

Here is the entire poem, published in "Permit Me Voyage," 1934. I have to admit that reading it doesn't help me understand it too much better though.

Description of Elysium
There: far, friends: ours: dear dominion:

Whole health resides with peace,
Gladness and never harm,
There not time turning,
Nor fear of flower of snow

Where marbling water slides
No charm may halt of chill,
Air aisling the open acres,
And all the gracious trees

Spout up their standing fountains
Of wind-beloved green
And the blue conclaved mountains
Are grave guards

Stone and springing field
Wide one tenderness,
The unalterable hour
Smiles deathlessness:

No thing is there thinks:
Mind the witherer
Withers on the outward air:
We can not come there.

Sure on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wandering for alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Now thorn bone bare
Silenced with iron the branch’s gullet:
Rattling merely on the air
Of hornleaved holly:

The stony mark where sand was by
The water of a nailèd foot:
The berry harder than the beak:
The hole beneath the dead oak root:

All now brought quiet
Through the latest throe
Quieted and ready and quiet:
Still not snow:

Still thorn bone bare
Iron in the silenced gully
Rattling only of the air
Through hornleaved holly.

April 5, 2011 at 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note to A.C. Robbins:

Um, no. You are confused, I regret to say. Agee's poem titled "Description of Elysium" ends with the line "We can not come there."

Then "Sure on this shining night" is a separate poem.

And then the last four quatrains you quote ("Now thorn bone bare ... Through horn-leaved holly") constitute yet another separate poem.

So what you have there are three (separate and distinct) poems that you have unintentionally run together.

Lyric poems are sometimes (often) published without a separate title. They are known simply by their first lines. "Sure on this shining night" is such a poem.

November 29, 2011 at 5:56 AM  

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