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Sonnets of the Fatal Interview


I. This beast that rends me
III. Hearing your words
II. Since of no creature living
IV. I know my mind

DURATION
14’

INSTRUMENTATION
SATB (div.) a cappella

AUDIO
Ensemble of the North; Patrick McDonough, conductor

POET
Edna St. Vincent Millay

YEAR COMPOSED
2005

COMMISSIONER
Ensemble of the North

ORDERING SCORES
Inkjar Publishing Company
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PERUSAL SCORE
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PROGRAM NOTES
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.

“By our first strange and fatall interview,
By all desires which thereof did ensue,”
-John Donne

These words are found at the beginning of
The Fatal Interview, a book of sonnets written in 1931 by Millay. While married to Eugene Boissevain, Millay had a long-term love affair with George Dillon, a poet who was fourteen years her junior. This affair inspired her to write the fifty two sonnets that comprise The Fatal Interview; John Donne’s poetry aptly describes the sparks that flew after Millay and Dillon first met.

In
Sonnets of the Fatal Interview, I set four sonnets that outline the curve of Millay’s and Dillon’s relationship. This beast that rends me (mvmt. 1) shows Millay’s desire for Dillon; Since of no creature (mvmt. 2) living illustrates her deep love for him; Hearing your words (mvmt. 3) and I know my mind (mvmt. 4) trace her decision to break off the affair with Dillon and return to her husband.
-S.G.

TEXTS
1. This beast that rends me
This beast that rends me in the sight of all,
This love, this longing, this oblivious thing,
That has me under as the last leaves fall,
Will glut, will sicken, will be gone by spring.
The wound will heal, the fever will abate,
The knotted hurt will slacken in the breast;
I shall forget before the flickers mate
Your look that is today my east and west.
Unscathed, however, from a claw so deep
Though I should love again I shall not go:
Along my body, waking while I sleep,
Sharp to the kiss, cold to the hand as snow,
The scar of this encounter like a sword
Will lie between me and my troubled lord.

2. Since of no creature living
Since of no creature living the last breath
Is twice required, or twice the ultimate pain,
Seeing how to quit your arms is very death,
'Tis likely that I shall not die again;
And likely 'tis that Time whose gross decree
Sends now the dawn to clamour at our door,
Thus having done his evil worst to me,
Will thrust me by, will harry me no more.
When you are corn and roses and at rest
I shall endure, a dense and sanguine ghost,
To haunt the scene where I was happiest,
To bend above the thing I loved the most;
And rise, and wring my hands, and steal away
As I do now, before the advancing day.

3. Hearing your words
Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

4. I know my mind
I know my mind and I have made my choice;
Not from your temper does my doom depend;
Love me or love me not, you have no voice
In this, which is my portion to the end.
Your presence and your favours, the full part
That you could give, you now can take away:
What lies between your beauty and my heart
Not even you can trouble or betray.
Mistake me not — unto my inmost core
I do desire your kiss upon my mouth;
They have not craved a cup of water more
That bleach upon the deserts of the south;
Here might you bless me; what you cannot do
Is bow me down, who have been loved by you.