Wednesday 21 November 2018

Ralph Vaughan Williams and Walt Whitman

With thanks to Adrian for reminding me about the American poet Walt Whitman, whose poem "Reconciliation" inspired British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams to compose a cantata - a plea for peace - which was first performed in 1936.  Whitman, who was a medic during the American Civil War, wrote:


Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in
time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night
incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this
soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin—
I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face
in the coffin.

Ralph Vaughan-Williams was too old for military service in 1914 but volunteered to serve nonetheless and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He drove ambulances on the Western Front and in Greece during the First World War.

Although not a First World War poet, Whitman's poetry must surely have resonated with the poets of the conflict.