• Arthur Bliss
  • Auvergnat (1943)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • Voice/pf
  • 1 min

Programme Note

For a long time I had wanted to set some of Kathleen Raine’s poems, but they seemed to me as delicate as flowers or shells, and I hesitated to spoil their fragile beauty. And then came an occasion in 1964 when I was invited to collaborate with this poet. We both had associations with Cambridge, and in that year the University was celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first degree in music ever given there. The pleasure of composing a Cantata The Golden to her works emboldened me later in 1968 to choose seven poems from her collected works, written during the years from 1935 to 1949 and form from them a Song Cycle.

She has allowed me to call this mystical songs Angels of the Mind, because she writes of Angels, both terrible and comforting, in perhaps the same spirit as Rilke did.

The first performance took place at a BBC Invitation Concert in the University of Lancaster in December 1969.
© Sir Arthur Bliss

Worry about Money

Wearing worry about money like a hair shirt
I lie down in my bed and wrestle with my angel.

My bank-manager could not sanction my continuance for another day
But life itself wakes me each morning, and love

Urges me to give although I have no money
In the bank at this moment, and ought properly

To cease to exist in a world where poverty
Is a shameful and ridiculous offence.

Having no one to advise me, I open the Bible
And shut my eyes and put my finger on a text

And read that the widow with the young son
Must give first to the prophetic genius
From the little there is in the bin of flour and the cruse of oil

(from The Pythoness and other Poems)

Lenten Flowers

Primrose, anemone, bluebell, moss
Grow in the Kingdom of the Cross

And the ash-tree’s purple bud
Dresses the spear that sheds his blood.

With the thorns that pierce his brow
Sort encircling petals grow

For in each flower the secret lies
Of the tree that crucifies.

Garden by the water clear
All must die who enter here!

(from The Pythoness and other Poems)


Day is the hero’s shield,
Achilles’ field,
The light days are the angels.
We the seed.

Against eternal light and gorgon’s face
Day is the shield
And we the grass
Native to the fields of iron, and skies of brass.

(from Stone and Flower)


From star to star, from sun and spring and leaf,
and almost audible flowers whose sound is silence,
and in the common meadows, springs the seed of life.

Now the lilies open, and the rose
released by summer from the harmless graves
that, centuries deep, are in the air we breathe,
and in our earth, and in our daily bread.

External and innate dimensions hold
the living forms, but not the force of life;
for that interior and holy tree
that in the heart of heart outlives the world
spreads earthly shades into eternity

(from Stone and Flower)

In the Beck

There is a fish, that quivers in the pool,
itself a shadow, but its shadow, clear.
Catch it again and again, it is still there.

Against the flowering stream, its life keeps space
with death – the impulse and the flash of grace
hiding in its stillness, to be motionless.

No net will hold it – always it will return
where the ripples settle, and the sand –
it lives unmoved, equated with the stream,
as flowers are fit for air, man for his dream.

(from Stone and Flower)


God in me is the fury on the bare heath
God in me shakes the interior kingdom of my heaven.
God in me is the fire wherein I burn.

God in me swirling cloud and driving rain
God in me cries a lonely nameless bird
God in me beats my head upon a stone.

God in me the four elements of storm
Raging in the shelterless landscape of the mind
Outside the barred doors of my Goneril heart.

(from The Pythoness and other Poems)


Night comes, an angel stands
measuring out the time of stars,
still are the winds, and still the hours.

It would be peace to be
still in the still hours at the angel’s feet,
upon a star hung in a starry sky,
but hearts another measure beat.

Each body, wingless as it lies,
sends out its butterfly of night
with delicate wings, and jewelled eyes.

And some upon day’s shores are cast,
and some in darkness lost
in waves beyond the world, where float
somewhere the islands of the blest.

(from Stone and Flower)