‘If you were coming in the fall’

Women at the Sea. Jan Toorop. 1891.
Women at the Sea. Jan Toorop. 1891.

Emily Dickinson


If you were coming in the fall,

I’d brush the summer by

With half a smile and half a spurn,

As housewives do a fly.


If I could see you in a year,

I’d wind the months in balls,

And put them each in separate drawers,

Until their time befalls.


If only centuries delayed,

I’d count them on my hand,

Subtracting till my fingers dropped

Into Van Diemens land.


If certain, when this life was out,

That yours and mine should be,

I’d toss it yonder like a rind,

And taste eternity.


But now, all ignorant of the length

Of time’s uncertain wing,

It goads me, like the goblin bee,

That will not state its sting.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 – 2 February 1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He has had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony. [source]


“From off his horse the Emperor now descends”

Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.
Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.

from La Chanson de Roland

trans. Dorothy L. Sayers



From off his horse the Emperor now descends;

On the green grass he kneels with bended head,

Then to the sunrise he lifts his face addressed

And prays to God with heartfelt reverence:

“Father most true, this day my cause defend!

Thou that to Jonah Thy succour didst extend

In the whale’s belly, and safely draw him thence,

And after, spare the king of Nineveh;

Thou that didst save Thy servant Daniel

From torments dire within the lions’ den,

And the Three Children amid the fire protect,

Lord, be thy love this day my present help;

And, if it please Thee, grant that ere this day’s end

Roland my nephew may fully be avenged!”

His prayer is done; rising, he stands erect;

The sign of power he makes on brow and breast.

Now to the saddle once more the King has leapt,

Joz’ran and Naimon to hold his stirrup bend;

He takes his shield, his sharpened spear as well;

Comely his body and straight and nobly held,

His face is frank, his looks are confident;

Forward he rides, firm in the stirrup set.

To van, to rear, the braying clarions swell;

Olifant’s voice resounds above the rest;

The thought of Roland draws tears from all the French.


‘Many marvels walk through the world’

Antigone and Polynice. Benjamin Constant.
Antigone and Polynice. Benjamin Constant.


Sophocles (trans. Richard Emil Braun)



Many marvels walk through the world,

terrible, wonderful,

but none more than humanity,

which makes a way under winter rain,

over the gray deep of the sea,

proceeds where it swells and swallows;

that grinds at the Earth—

undwindling, unwearied, first of the gods—

to its own purpose,

as the plow is driven, turning year into year,

through generations as colt follows mare.


Weaves and braids the meshes to hurl—

circumspect man—

and to drive lightheaded tribes of birds his prisoners,

and the animals,

nations in fields, race of the salty ocean;

and fools and conquers the monsters

whose roads and houses are hills,

the shaggy-necked horse that he holds subject,

and the mountain oxen that he yokes under beams,

bowing their heads,

his unwearying team.


The breath of his life he has taught to be

language, be the spirit of thought;

griefs, to give laws to nations;

fears, to dodge weapons

of rains and winds and the homeless cold—

always clever,

he never fails to find ways

for whatever future;

manages cures for the hardest maladies;

from death alone he has secured no refuge.


With learning and with ingenuity

over his horizon of faith

mankind crawls

now to failure, now to worth.

And when he has bound the laws of this earth

beside Justice pledged to the gods,

he rules his homeland;

but he has no home

who recklessly marries an illegitimate cause.

Fend this stranger from my mind’s home and home’s hearth.


Strawberries. Bella and Ida at the Table. Marc Chagall. 1916.
Strawberries. Bella and Ida at the Table. Marc Chagall. 1916.


Amy Lowell, 1919


When I have baked white cakes
And grated green almonds to spread upon them;
When I have picked the green crowns from the strawberries
And piled them, cone-pointed, in a blue and yellow platter;
When I have smoothed the seam of the linen I have been working;
What then?
To-morrow it will be the same:
Cakes and strawberries,
And needles in and out of cloth.
If the sun is beautiful on bricks and pewter,
How much more beautiful is the moon,
Slanting down the gauffered branches of a plum-tree;
The moon,
Wavering across a bed of tulips;
The moon,
Upon your face.
You shine, Beloved,
You and the moon.
But which is the reflection?
The clock is striking eleven.
I think, when we have shut and barred the door,
The night will be dark


Johannes Ockeghem

illuminated opening from the Chigi codex featuring the Kyrie of the Missa Ecce ancilla Domini by Johannes Ockeghem


“He [Ockeghem] alone of all singers is free from all vice and abounds in all virtues.”—Francesco Flori

The Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem succeeded Guillaume Dufay as the most celebrated composer of his period, and was praised for the “extraordinary sweetness and beauty” of his music.

Relatively few of Ockeghem’s compositions have survived, among them fourteen masses that were the most important of their time. The earliest of these masses were composed on the accepted pattern of the cantus firmus (an existing melody used as the basis for the polyphonic composition). Ockeghem later experimented with the pattern, freeing the cantus firmus from its usual tenor part; and he became the fist known composer to use melodies from his own songs as the cantus firmus in a number of his masses. Several of Ockeghem’s masses do not even rely on a cantus firmus, but are freely constructed from rhythmic and melodic fragments.

Guillaume Dufay

Guillaume Dufay (left), with contemporary composer Gilles Binchois
Guillaume Dufay (left), with contemporary composer Gilles Binchois


In the succession of medieval composers I have enjoyed so far, I seem to have made personal connections with every other one. Hildegarde von Bingen I adored; the representatives of the Notre Dame school—Perotin and Leonin—not so much; Guillaume Machaut I loved. So I wondered about Guillaume Dufay.

I bookmarked numerous pieces, but did not find any particularly compelling until my attention was captured by his beautiful motet Nuper Rosarum Flores. I was all the more intrigued when I learned it was composed for the 1436 consecration of the Basilica de Santa Maria de Fiore. This massive brick dome—which was then in the last stages of completion—was a feat of medieval technology, accomplished by Filippo Brunelleschi.

What just happened to be on my library book shelf?—Ross King’s excellent Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

I love connections like this!

Interestingly, it has been argued that the proportional structure of the motet was inspired by I Kings 6:1-20, which gives the dimensions of Solomon’s temple.



Hurrahing in Harvest

Wheat Field with Cypresses. Vincent van Gogh. 1889.
Wheat Field with Cypresses. Vincent van Gogh. 1889.

Hurrahing in Harvest

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise

Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour

Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier

Meal-drift moulded ever and melded across the skies?


I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,

Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour,

And éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a

Rapturous loves’ greeting of realer, of rounder replies?


And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder

Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—

These things, these things were here and but the beholder

Wanting; which two when they once meet,

The heart rears wings bold and bolder

And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.