Bermudas (for two voices and piano)
Bermudas (for medium voice and piano)
Bermudas (for mezzo-soprano and piano quartet)
In 1653 Andrew Marvell was tutor to the ward of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England. Marvell lived in an atmosphere of social, economic, and religious ferment in the home of John Oxenbridge, one of the Puritans who had fled England to escape religious persecution, like the Massachusetts colonists of the Mayflower. For several years Oxenbridge had been the leader of a pilgrim settlement on the remote Caribbean islands named the Bermudas, after the Spaniard Bermudez, who discovered them in 1515. When Cromwell’s “glorious revolution” triumphed Oxenbridge returned to England and served on the London Commission for the Government of the Bermudas. These islands were widely believed to be bewitched, the subject of lurid legends and tall tales which are the source of today’s Bermuda Triangle stories. In The Tempest
, Shakespeare had invoked them as “still-vex’d [that is, every stormy] Bermoothes,” a typically erroneous description, as any vacationer can now attest. Oxenbridge was in charge of the sale of shares in a company organized to exploit the island at the time that his young poet-in-residence composed these balmy lines.
Marvell’s elegant poem dispels the fantastic tales that were planning the island’s reputation and inhibiting investors. It replaces them with an accurate list of Bermuda’s resources, couched in language drawn from the Psalms of David and the Song of Solomon, in keeping with the high spiritual tone of Cromwell’s Puritan regime. It evokes the buoyant faith of the hymning pilgrims for whom the tropical wonders are emblems of divinity. The seeming naiveté of the poem, however, is artful. Marvell was perfectly aware that a large cache of valuable “Ambergris on shoar” had provoked the islands first recorded crime; that for some the “Gospels pearl” was no consolation for the disappointingly small oysters pearl; But Bermudas is no less a charming devotional masterpiece for being a remarkable stock prospectus as well. It blithely transcends politics and economics to employ the island as a metaphor for the blessings to be conferred upon the faithful.
--- MARK SHULGASSER