A song cycle of five atmospheric and evocative songs connected with the sea, composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1899, for contralto and orchestra. The first performer was Clara Butt, at the Norwich Festival on 5 October 1899, Elgar conducting, followed by performances in London and at Balmoral before the Queen.

There are poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Adam Lindsay Gordon, one by Elgar's wife Alice (1848-1920), and the remaining two are Richard Garnett (1835-1906) and Roden Noel (1834-1894), who are no longer well-known, if they ever were.

The classic performance of this on record is perhaps Dame Janet Baker's 1965 version, with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the LSO, coupled with the legendary Jacqueline du Pré performance of the Cello Concerto.


I. Sea Slumber Song

(Roden Noel)

Sea-birds are asleep,
The world forgets to weep,
Sea murmurs her soft slumber-song
On the shadowy sand
Of this elfin land;

"I, the Mother mild,
Hush thee, oh my child,
Forget the voices wild!

"Isles in elfin light
Dream, the rocks and caves,
Lulled by whispering waves,
Veil their marbles bright.
Foam glimmers faintly white
Upon the shelly sand
Of this elfin land;

"Sea-sound, like violins,
To slumber woos and wins,
I murmur my soft slumber-song,
Leave woes, and wails, and sins.

"Ocean's shadowy night
Breathes good night,
Good night..."

II. In Haven

or Capri (C. Alice Elgar)

Closely let me hold thy hand,
Storms are sweeping sea and land;
 Love alone will stand.

Closely cling, for waves beat fast,
Foam-flakes cloud the hurrying blast;
 Love alone will last.

Kiss my lips, and softly say:
"Joy, sea-swept, may fade to-day;
 Love alone will stay."

III. Sabbath Morning at Sea

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

The ship went on with solemn face;
 To meet the darkness on the deep,
  The solemn ship went onward.
I bowed down weary in the place;
 for parting tears and present sleep
  Had weighed mine eyelids downward.

The new sight, the new wondrous sight!
 The waters around me, turbulent,
  The skies, impassive o'er me,
Calm in a moonless, sunless light,
 As glorified by even the intent
  Of holding the day glory!

Love me, sweet friends, this sabbath day.
 The sea sings round me while ye roll
  Afar the hymn, unaltered,
And kneel, where once I knelt to pray,
 And bless me deeper in your soul
  Because your voice has faltered.

And though this sabbath comes to me
 Without the stolèd minister,
  And chanting congregation,
God's Spirit shall give comfort.
 He who brooded soft on waters drear,
  Creator on creation.

He shall assist me to look higher,
 Where keep the saints, with harp and song,
  An endless sabbath morning,
And that sea commixed with fire,
 Oft drop their eyelids raised too long
  To the full Godhead's burning.

IV. Where Corals Lie

(Richard Garnett)

The deeps have music soft and low
 When winds awake the airy spry,
It lures me, lures me on to go
 And see the land where corals lie.

By mount and steed, by lawn and rill,
 When night is deep, and moon is high,
That music seeks and finds me still,
 And tells me where the corals lie.

Yes, press my eyelids close, 'tis well,
 But far the rapid fancies fly
The rolling worlds of wave and shell,
 And all the lands where corals lie.

Thy lips are like a sunset glow,
 Thy smile is like a morning sky,
Yet leave me, leave me, let me go
 And see the land where corals lie.

V. The Swimmer

(Adam Lindsay Gordon)

With short, sharp violent lights made vivid,
To southward far as the sight can roam,
Only the swirl of the surges livid,
The sees that climb and the surfs that comb.
Only the crag and the cliff to nor'ward,
And the rocks receding, and reefs flung forward,
Waifs wreck'd seaward and wasted shoreward,
On shallows sheeted with flaming foam.

A grim, gray coast and a seaboard ghastly,
And shores trod seldom by feet of men -
Where the batter'd hull and the broken mast lie,
They have lain embedded these long years ten.
Love! Love! when we wandered here together,
Hand in hand! Hand in hand through the sparkling weather,
From the heights and hollows of fern and heather,
God surely loved us a little then.

The skies were fairer and shores were firmer -
The blue sea over the bright sand roll'd;
Babble and prattle, and ripple and murmur,
Sheen of silver and glamour of gold.

So, girl with tempest and wing'd with thunder
And clad with lightning and shod with sleet,
And strong winds treading the swift waves under
The flying rollers with frothy feet.
One gleam like a bloodshot sword-blade swims on
The sky line, staining the green gulf crimson,
A death-stroke fiercely dealt by a dim sun
That strikes through his stormy winding sheet.

O brave white horses! you gather and gallop,
The storm sprite loosens the gusty rains;
Now the stoutest ship were the frailest shallop
In your hollow backs, on your high-arched manes.
I would ride as never a man has ridden
In your sleepy, swirling surges hidden;
To gulfs foreshadow'd through strifes forbidden,
Where no light wearies and no love wanes.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.