Sonnets of Beauty and Music
I. Still will I harvest beauty where it grows
II. On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven
SATB (div.) a cappella
Volti; Robert Geary, conductor
Turn the Page • Innova 759 • Innova Records
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Inkjar Publishing Company
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Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was an American poet who produced a great body of work in her lifetime. Among her works are several books of poetry, essays, plays, an opera libretto, and over two hundred sonnets. The sonnets cover a vast range of topics including love, loss, beauty, music, death, war, science, legendary figures, and the end of humanity. Beautifully constructed, I find that many of Millay’s sonnets are well suited to be set to music. From 2000-2006, I set sixteen of her sonnets for a cappella choir, arranged into six sonnet sets.
Sonnets of Beauty and Music focuses on finding beauty in unexpected beauty, as well as the role music played for Millay.
1. Still will I harvest beauty where it grows
Still will I harvest beauty where it grows:
In coloured fungus and the spotted fog
Surprised on foods forgotten; in ditch and bog
Filmed brilliant with irregular rainbows
Of rust and oil, where half a city throws
Its empty tins; and in some spongy log
Whence headlong leaps the oozy emerald frog.
And a black pupil in the green scum shows.
Her the inhabiter of divers places
Surmising at all doors, I push them all.
Oh, you that fearful of a creaking hinge
Turn back forevermore with craven faces,
I tell you Beauty bears an ultrafringe
Unguessed of you upon her gossamer shawl!
2. On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven
Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!
Reject me not into the world again.
With you alone is excellence and peace,
Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.
Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,
With limbs a-sprawl and empty faces pale,
The spiteful and the stingy and the rude
Sleep like the scullions in the fairy-tale.
This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Reject me not, sweet sounds; oh, let me live,
Till Doom espy my towers and scatter them,
A city spell-bound under the aging sun.
Music my rampart, and my only one.