Not for that city
for choir SA and piano
- Duration 3'
commissioned by Graphite Publishing for the 2015-16 Women's Choir Commissioning Consortium
I had enjoyed Charlotte Mew’s poem “Not for that city” for a long time, before writing this musical setting. Traditional visions of heaven as a great city, paved with gold, stretching as far as the eye can see, date from a long time ago, when the vast majority of people lived in small rural communities. By the time that the poet was writing, city life was a reality for many, and perhaps for her generation yet more noise and busy-ness and activity in the life to come was something to be avoided. Space, and quiet, and even oblivion, is now what is sought. The poem may also be read as a reply to John Donne’s “Bring us O Lord God” (written three hundred years earlier) where heaven is imagined as a place “where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music”.
Not for that city of the level sun,
Its golden streets and glittering gates ablaze —
The shadeless, sleepless city of white days,
White nights, or nights and days that are as one —
We weary, when all is said, all thought, all done.
We strain our eyes beyond this dusk to see
What, from the threshold of eternity,
We shall step into. No, I think we shun
The splendour of that everlasting glare,
The clamour of that never-ending song.
And if for anything we greatly long,
It is for some remote and quiet stair
Which winds to silence and a space for sleep
Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.
Charlotte Mew 1869-1928