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Songs for the Earth

 

When I started to play guitar again a few years ago I was confronted with the question of what songs to sing. So many songs are about human love and loss, which at 70 something and 50 years of marriage don’t seem quite appropriate. Remembering Rilke's injunction that 'the more looked at world wants to be nourished by love'; and because so much of my attention is bound up with the plight of the plight of Earth and the unfolding ecological catastrophe, I realized that, with the poet Mary Oliver, I can say ‘my work is loving the world’

So I have taken some of the poems I like that speak of and to Earth and set them to my music, with an emphasis on jazzy chords, if not jazzy rhythms.

Sleeping in the Forest draws on Mary Oliver’s poem. It captures the joy and also the strangeness of a night among trees and under the stars. It is about Earth as home

Uvavnuck's Song is from an Inuit woman shaman, Uvavnuk. It is about the Earth and Cosmos as sublime: wondrous and fearful. There is a different version of this song in Robert Bly's collection News on the Universe.

Silence draws on a poem by Wendell Berry. Often when we humans go out into the wider world, for a walk maybe, we chatter amongst ourselves. The half Cherokee grandfather of a friend of mine used to tell her to be quiet and “listen to what the trees are sayin’” when they went into the woods. So the American farmer poet Wendell Berry writes about silence, ‘a song whose lines I cannot make or sing’.

Quiet Friend is taken from a sonnet by the great German Romantic poet Raine Maria Rilke. Although he lived in the first half of the C20 his poems relate to present times. He summons us to be fully present in our world with all its exquisite fragility and transience. Knowing our own vulnerability is essential, our greatest gift to life

The Peace of the Wild Things is my setting of a very well-known poem again by Wendell Berry. It tells of the comfort the wild world can give us in times of trouble

Rocks was inspired by my sailing pilgrimage on the west coast of Scotland. As I travelled north I found myself surrounded by older and older rocks, and from this reflecting on the history of the universe and deep time.

State of Grace was written by Elizabeth Krasnoff in response to my contribution to a doctoral course at California Institute for Integral Studies.

Lay down the Path in Walking is a poem by Antonio Machado. This translation by the biologist Franceso Varela from a paper reflecting on the nature of knowing in our world.

The Uses of Not is adapted from Ursula LeGuin's rendering of the Tao te Ching.

The Way was inspired by a poem by Wang Wei that features in Richard Powers' ecological novel The Overstory. Additional words taken from the web.

When I was the Forest is based on words by Meister Eckhart in Daniel Ladinsky's rendering. The second verse is my own words, which I hope remain in the spirit of the original mystic vision of returning to full participation in the Earth and her creatures.

The Sun Never Sets a few words about love rendered by Daniel Ladinsky from a poem by Hafiz.

Songs for Earth

 

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