The composer's interest in the 19th century poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) became one of the turning points of his creative life. Venables discovered the sonnet 'At Malvern' as he began to catalogue Symonds' vast output of over seven hundred poems. Symonds' impetus came from a visit to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, which has for centuries been a source of inspiration of composers and writers that have included Sir Edward Elgar and William Langland. Symonds has evoked the calm and serenity of Malvern in the 1860's where little could be heard, but the sounds of nature and the distant bells of the famous Priory.
A limpid piano accompaniment, representative of the priory bells, underpins this tripartite structure, with the middle section acting as a commentary, albeit a paraphrase of Catullus, on the virtues of living life to the full.