[Updated versions, 23rd October 2016]
One of my Housman settings. However, this one isn’t from A Shropshire Lad.
Version with harmony vocal (demo for collaborative venture, but I might develop that.)
Every so often, a tune just pops into my head and demands to be written. Strange how often that’s happened when reading Housman…
The poem was apparently written by a very young Housman (15) for a play, as a song to be sung by Lady Jane Grey while in prison awaiting execution. It somewhat resembles a lyric by Louisa McCartney Crawford (1790–1858) set to music by George Arthur Barker as part of a sequence of Songs of Mary Queen of Scots – The Captivity opens with the line ‘Breathe, breathe my Lute that melting strain My soul delights to hear’. Clearly there are parallels in the context of the two lyrics. It also reminds me somewhat of Byron’s We’ll go no more a-roving.
Breathe, my lute, beneath my fingers
One regretful breath,
One lament for life that lingers
Round the doors of death.
For the frost has killed the rose,
And our summer dies in snows,
And our morning once for all
Gathers to the evenfall.
Hush, my lute, return to sleeping,
Sing no songs again.
For the reaper stays his reaping
On the darkened plain;
And the day has drained its cup,
And the twilight cometh up;
Song and sorrow all that are
Slumber at the even-star.