These three poems were written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) several years apart, yet seem to express similar emotions and concerns. The first was written in 1853 when she was twenty-three, the second when she was in her late thirties and the third, written towards the end of her life, may be the last poem she ever wrote.
I have wanted to write a work for voice and harp for some time and found the dark and secret world of these poems ideally suited to this sonority.
The Three Songs were completed in February 2003 and last a total of approximately 15 minutes.
I. 'Ye have forgotten the exhortation' -
COME, BLESSED SLEEP, most full, most perfect, come;
Come, sleep, if so I may forget the whole;
Forget my body and forget my soul,
Forget how long life is and troublesome.
Come, happy sleep, to soothe my heart or numb,
Arrest my weary spirit or control;
Till light be dark to me from pole to pole,
And winds and echoes and low songs be dumb.
Come, sleep, and lap me into perfect calm,
Lap me from the world and weariness:
Come, secret sleep, with thine unuttered psalm,
Come, heavy dreamless sleep, and close and press
Upon mine eyes thy fingers dropping balm.
II. 'O ombre vane, fuor che ne l’aspetto!' Dante
'Immaginata guida la conduce.'Petrarca
I DREAM OF YOU, to wake: would that I might
Dream of you and not wake but slumber on;
Nor find with dreams the dear companion gone,
As summer ended Summer birds take flight.
In happy dreams I hold you full in sight,
I blush again who waking look so wan;
Brighter than the sunniest day that ever shone,
In happy Dreams your smile makes day of night.
Thus only in a dream we are at one,
Thus only in a dream we give and take
The faith that maketh rich who take or give;
If thus to sleep is sweeter than to wake,
To die were surely sweeter than to live,
Though there be nothing new beneath the sun.
III. SLEEPING AT LAST, the trouble and tumult over,
Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover,
Sleeping at last.
No more a tired heart downcast or overcast,
No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover,
Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast.
Fast asleep. Singing birds in their leafy cover
Cannot wake her, nor shake her the gusty blast.
Under the purple thyme and the purple clover
Sleeping at last.