• Kenneth Leighton
  • The Birds (1954)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • [perc]pfstr
  • timp/2pf.cel
  • SATB
  • soprano, tenor
  • 30 min
  • Kenneth Leighton
  • Aristophanes, Hardy, de la Mare, Shelley, Tennyson, Thomas Vautor
  • English

Programme Note

1. INVOCATION

Come one, come all,
my feathered folk,
fly over!
The farm-lands forsake,
the rich fields of grain,
from barley-feast and seed-picking up and away
strong generations of birds
fluttering innumerable,
swift, and smoothly calling.
Up from the arable come you
smaller folk about the clods with pipe so slender
twittering for gladness.
tio tio tio tio
tio tio tio tio

Hurry over
from the ivied
city gardens, -
quick! From your forage begone!
From the hill hurry you
strippers of the bush-olive,
nibblers of the arbute, -
flit across the air to me,
hurry,
obey my call!

Marshy dyke
leave you now
all who snap
piercing gnats.
Water-fowl,
leave the moist
meadow-lands;
seek no more
heart's delight
deep in green
Marathôn.

Birds of all feather, the sea's generations
over the billows with halcyons flying
hasten you hither, await our intelligence.

Here at our summoning, flock upon flock of them,
all birds long-throated assemble.

Arisophanes
(translated by T. F. Higham)

(from The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation, by permission of T. F. Higham, Esq.)

2. THE ROBIN

when up aloft
I fly and fly
I see in pools
The shining sky,
And a happy bird
Am I, am I!

When I descend
Towards their brink
I stand, and look,
And stoop, and drink,
And bathe my wings,
And chink and prink.

When winter frost
Makes earth as steel
I search and search
But find no meal.
And most unhappy
Then I feel.

But when it lasts,
And snows still fall,
I get to feel
No grief at all,
For I turn to a cold stiff
Feathery ball!

Thomas Hardy
(by permission of The Society of Authors and the estate of Thomas Hardy)

3. THE BLACKBIRD

In midst of woods or pleasant grove,
Where all sweet birds do sing,
Methought I heard so rare a sound,
Which made the heav'ns to ring.
The charm was good, the noise full sweet,
Each bird did play his part;
And I admired to hear the same;
Joy sprung in-to my heart.

The blackbird made the sweetest sound,
Whose tunes did far excel;
Full pleasantly and most profound
Was all things placéd well.
Thy pretty tune, mine own sweet bird,
Done with so good a grace,
Extols thy name, prefers the same
Abroad in ev'ry place.

Thy music grave bedeckéd well
With sundry points of skill,
Bewrays thy knowledge excellent,
Engrafted in thy will.
My tongue shall speak,
My pen shall write in praise of thee to tell;
The sweetest bird that ever was,
In friendly sort fare-well, fare-well!

Anonymous

4. SWEET SUFFOLK OWLE

Sweet Suffolk Owle, so trimly dight,
With feathers like a Lady bright,
Thou sing'st alone, sitting, by night,
Te whit, to whoo,
Thy note that forth so freely roules,
With shrill command the Mouse controules,
And sings a dirge for dying soules,
Te whit, to whoo.

Thomas Vautor

5. ELEGY

A widow bird sat mourning for her love
Upon a wintry bought;
The frozen wind crept on above,
The freezing stream below.

There was no leaf upon the forest bare,
No flower upon the ground,
And little motion in the air
Except the mill-wheel's sound.

P. B. Shelley

6. THE LINNET

Upon this leafy bush
With thorns and roses in it,
Flutters a thing of light,
A twittering linnet,
And all the throbbing world
Of dew and sun and air
By this small parcel of life
Is made more fair:
As if each bramble-spray
And mounded gold-wreathed furze,
Harebell and little thyme,
Were only hers;
As if this beauty and grace
Did to one bird belong,
And, at a flutter of wing,
Might vanish in song.

Walter de la Mare
(by permission of the author)

7. THE EAGLE

He clasps the crag with crooked hands,
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Tennyson

8. THE HYMN OF THE BIRDS

Come on then, ye dwellers by nature in darkness,
and like to the leaves' generations,
That are little of might, that are moulded of mire,
unenduring and shadow-like nations,
Poor plumeless ephemerals, comfortless mortals,
as visions of shadows fast fleeing,
Lift up your mind unto us that are deathless,
and dateless the date of our being:
Us, children of heaven, us, ageless for aye,
us, all of whose thoughts are eternal;
That ye may from henceforth, having heard of us
all things aright as to matters supernal,
Of the being of birds, and beginning of gods,
and of streams, and the dark beyond reaching,
Truthfully knowing aright, in my name
bid Prodicus pack with his preaching.
For all best good things that befall men come
from us birds, as is plain to all reason;
For first we proclaim and make known to them spring,
and the winter and autumn in season:
Bid sow, when the crane starts clanging for Afric,
in shrill-voiced emigrant number,
And calls to the pilot to hang up his rudder
again for the season, and slumber;
And then weave cloak for Orestês the thief,
lest he strip men of theirs if it freezes.
And again thereafter the kite reappearing
announces a change in the breezes,
And that here is the season for shearing your sheep
of their spring wool. Then does the swallow
Give you notice to sell your greatcoat, and provide
something light for the heat that's to follow.
Thus are we as Ammon or Delphi unto you
Dôdôna, nay, Pheobus Apollo.

Aristophanes
(translated by A. C. Swinburne)

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