• Geoffrey Burgon
  • Magic Words (2000)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by The Friends of the Little Missenden Festival

  • SATB
  • 18 min

Programme Note

Geoffrey Burgon’s Magic Words was commissioned for the Little Missenden festival by Mary & David Saunders in memory of Dr Neil Saunders. It received its first performance there on 13th October 2000 by the Joyful Company of Singers conducted by Peter Broadbent.

Optional percussion instruments, to be played by members of the choir,

wood block

If percussion is not available then singers should clap the rhythms indicated,
four to each part, depending on the acoustics of the building.

Duration c. 15 minutes

1. Magic Words

Earth, earth
Great earth,
Round about on earth
There are bones, bones, bones,
Which are bleached by the great Sila*
By the weather, the sun, the air,
So that all the flesh disappears.

Spirit, spirit, spirit,
And the day, the day,
Go to my limbs
Without drying them up,
Without turning them to bones
Uvai, uvai, uvai. trans. W. Worster * Sila: the spirit that threatens mankind through the power of nature.

2. Sung by a little girl to soothe a crying baby.

Do not weep, little one,
Your mother will fetch you,
Mother is coming for you
As soon as she has finished
Her new kamiks.

Do not weep, little one,
your father will fetch you,
Father is coming as soon as he made
His new harpoon head,
Do not weep, little one,
Do not weep! trans. W. Worster

3. Far inland

Far inland
go my sad thoughts.
It is too much
never to leave this bench.
I want to wander
far inland.

I remember
hunting animals,
the good food.
It is too much
never to leave this bench.
I want to wander
far in land.

I hunted
like men. I carried
weapons, shot reindeer,
bull, cow and calf,
killed them with my arrows
one evening
when almost winter
twilight fell
far inland.

I remember
how I struggled
under the dropping sky
of snow.
The earth is white
far inland. trans. Willis Barnstone

4. Challenge (extract)

My anger rises
as I mock you in my song,
unworthy villager.
You plotted evil,
committed murder and witchcraft,
murder and witchcraft,
ambushed then slew my kin,
down there and south,
down there and south…

I had wonderful hunting
up there and east,
up there and east:
the harpoon flew from my hand,
I slaughtered the fierce sea-bulls
with a single thrust,
up there and east,
up there and east…
With a single thrust,
I’ll kill you too,
because you killed,
because you killed my family. trans. Tom Lowenstein

5. Summer

O, warmth of summer
gliding over the land in waves!
Not a gust of wind,
not a cloud –
And in the mountains,
the belling reindeer,
the sweet reindeer
in the blusih distance!
O, how it pulls me,
O, how it fills me with delight!
Sobbing with emotion,
I lie down on the earth. trans. Tom Lowenstein

6. Moved

The great sea stirs me.
The great sea sets me adrift,
it sways me like a weed
on a river stone.

The sky’s height above stirs me.
The strong wind blows through my mind.
It carries me with it,
so I shake with joy. trans. Tom Lowenstein


1, 2. from Knud Rasmussen, ‘Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos’ poems
trans. W. Worster (Copenhagen, Gyldenalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929)
From a book called ‘The unwritten Song’, edited by Willard Trask. Jonathon Cape

3. From ‘Beneath the Wide, Wide Heaven’ Virago Press 1991.

4, 5, 6. From ‘Eskimos poems from Canada and Greenland’ by Tom Lewenstein.
Alison & Busby 1973.