for medium voice, violoncello, and piano
Song to the Trees and Streams
Dark against the sky yonder distant line
Lies before us. Trees we see, long the line of trees,
Bending, swaying in the breeze.
Bright with flashing light yonder distant line
Runs before us, swiftly runs, swift the river runs,
Winding, flowing, flowing o'er the land.
Hark, a sound, yonder distant sound
Comes to greet us, singing comes, soft the river's song,
Rippling gently beneath the trees.
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
- William Stafford
Sometimes I choose a cloud and let it
cross the sky floating me away.
Or a bird unravels its song and carries me
as it flies deeper and deeper into the woods.
Is there a way to be gone and still
belong? Travel that takes you home?
Is that life? – to stand by a river and go.
- William Stafford
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Ah, what can be more stately to me than mast-hemmed Manhattan?
River and sunset and scallop-edg'd waves of floodtide?
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! Drench with your splendor me!
Stand up, tall masts of Manahatta! Stand up! Beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Flow on, river! Flow with the flood tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Fly on, sea birds! Fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air!
Receive the summer sky, you water,
and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you!
We fathom you not – we love you. You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great and small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
- Walt Whitman
River Songs, on poetry from the Pawnee tribe, William Stafford, and Walt Whitman, was written for cellist Yehuda Hanani's Close Encounters with Music series in 2003. The motivation behind the commission was a movement to halt the construction of the St. Lawrence Cement Plant on the banks of the Hudson River. Rather than writing a protest piece, it was decided that a work celebrating rivers would have broader appeal. The second song, Ask Me, references Schubert's Aus dem Flusse, also a poem about what might be stirring under the ice.
River Songs had its premiere in Great Barrington, Massachussettes in 2003 by baritone William Sharp, and cellist Yehuda Hanani with the composer at the piano.