Wednesday 27 February 2019

Charon's Lament

Charon's Lament by Robert Hugill & Tama Matheson
I recently completed to the score to a new song-cycle, Charon's Lament. Written for baritone, bassoon and piano, it sets an eleven-poem cycle by the Australian writer, director and actor Tama Matheson. The poems take us into the mind of Charon as he eternally rows the souls of the dead to the underworld. The cycle lasts around 45 minutes and takes the listener on a remarkable journey.

We are hoping to organise a performance of the new work, so watch this space. In the meantime, if you want to see Tama in action, he and Davina Clarke are performing Tama's musical interpretation of Byron's life, Don Juan, at the Barnes Festival on 18 March 2019.

You can read Tama's complete text after the break.

1 The Embarkation
Aboard! Aboard! The boat is pushing off,
The current longs to swill you to the dark;
The ages wait impatiently to quaff
Your little lives like wine! Embark! Embark!

All things must find their ending: all must die:
All ships must put into a final port;
All stars must fade; all oceans must burn dry;
For Time, like Caesar, spills your blood for sport!

Come then, aboard! Be not afraid of sleep –
Sleep sets a cadence on the din of life;
The symphony may gather to a sweep
Without the whining of your little fife.

Aboard! The boat must sail, the tide is swollen,
The river darkens down the dim ravines!
All that you were is but a moment stolen,
From Night; your death replenishes her means.

Embark! Embark! The eventide is falling,
The sun declines to nothing and to night,
The Autumn turns to ice, the wind is squalling,
And frost and darkness swallow up the light.

Strong is the ordinance that calls you hither
Too strong for wrath or weeping to rescind.
For, in the end, the whitest snowdrops wither,
And all the leaves are scattered on the wind.

2 Sleep
Sleep, sleep! Relieving sleep!
Be not aloof!
Longing for sleep
the sagging soul –
the empty swag of the day’s unfiltered cares!
Sleep! Let me sleep!
Let restful night
through the channels of my blood,
and still
my toiling limbs.
Sleep, sleep, let sleep invade me!
Let sleep caress
the hollow perturbations of my life
to calm –
to endless calm.
Sleep, sleep, forever sleep!

3 Sergeant
Called out of night to manage Time’s arrests,
I am the sergeant to Eternity;
I bring to imprisonment to living earth,
Yet am myself in chains.

The gaoler’s life is tethered to the gaol,
And he in his own prison is confined,
He cannot flee, and cannot be paroled,
But in forever bides.

While all the fallen souls herein detained
Depart the very moment they arrive,
I, always captive, always must remain
Lightless in custody.

I only must endure! And I alone
Behold the shrieking aeons streaking by;
And I, of all creation’s consciousness,
Remain eternal I.

Then only I, of all Time’s feeling souls,
Can comprehend severe infinity;
I am the slave of Perpetuity,
For death itself can’t die.

4 The River
The raging torrent twists and warps and flows,
And eddies forth the boat upon its course,
The sunless boat, car to the sallow dead
Whose endless weeping feeds the growing surge.
Through aeons I have seen such springs of sorrow
That what was once a waterless canal
Is now a raging flood – so vast is death!
Tears form the river that supports my boat
And tears convey the weeping to their doom.
Yet when I first conducted souls to death,
I trod with sombre steps on sullen stones;
Mankind has filled this channel with its groans
And spendthrift tears, and made this torrent fly:
When I first worked the riverbed was dry.

5 The Boat
She grows with each addition to her decks,
Capacious as the dying earth requires;
And though the anthill of humanity
Swarms larger every year, so grows my boat
Receptive to the need. All souls shall board
When from the parapets of life they’re hurled;
The boat is wide enough for all the world!

6 Solace
There is music enough in the sound of humanity’s weeping;
There is beauty enough in the glint of humanity’s tears;
There is stillness enough in the aeons of time that are sleeping;
There is comfort enough in the ultimate stoppage of fears.

The ending is solace to all of the buffets of fortune –
And Fortune is merely the bleak repercussion of birth;
Then come! turn your back on the fearful travails that importune,
And lay down your bones in the soothing embrace of the earth.

7 The Seasons
The seasons roll, the seasons roll and die,
To make a corpse of the decaying year;
Life pleads more life; Death answers with a sigh,
And shifts the margin of his hemisphere.

The jocund searchlight of the skies may burn
To cover darkness with a silk of light,
Yet conquering Erebus will at last inurn
His futile radiance in a casque of night.

And I – I feed the darkness; I am gloom;
I wash the colour from the dying cheek;
I snuff the candle, and rip up the plume,
And mangle laughter to a frightened shriek.

Yet, oh, the torment to dispense such pain!
The grief to dole such endless shares of grief!
Could I but live a softer life, and gain
From zealous pangs a tatter of relief!

For what transgression have the Destinies
So cursed my dismal life? For what offence
Must I be scourged, that every rag of ease
Should be distrained and riven from my sense?

Grief, grief, forever grief, forever pain!
Forever wailing terror of the dead!
Eternal heartbreak of the early slain!
Eternal sorrow of the childhood fled!

Of human passions, these are all I know,
Of human music, this is all I hear;
I ply my craft athwart a stream of woe,
And bury sad songs on a fruitless bier.

Mine is unending torment! They that come
Into my fiefdom are at once released;
Surcease obliterates; but I must plumb
The plummets of despair till all things cease!

Roll on, then, bleeding seasons! Roll, bare years!
I face you with the granite of my heart;
I pledge you staunchness, but deny you tears,
And will endure till Time from time depart!

8 Endgame
But how outface this sentence? How dam up
Despair unsolecable? How be strong
Against omnipotence? And how resist
The crushing weight of half a universe?
To be consigned to spend a life in death!
To be the butt of condemnation’s jest!
To be the image of imprisonment,
And benchmark of unfreedom! Oh, immured
Yet nominally free! I am not bound;
I am not shackled to my splashing prow;
Yet I must do what I am doomed to do:
Bound by a subtle chain of destiny
Whose links are practical necessities.
What heart could break from that autocracy?
Freedom! Such freedom breeds in tyranny –
In kingdoms where one will is ultimate,
Where all are sentenced, all at once condemned,
And smiling despotism, gun in hand,
Assures the abject that his will’s his own,
And makes all thought into a fearful glance
And repetition of the tyrant’s word,
Where every urge of aspiration drowns
Beneath a torrent of submissive nods!
This is the universe for me! This is my doom!
All of the things of light are dark to me;
All joys are sadnesses; all hopes despairs;
All good transmuted to unending ill,
And all creation but destruction’s toy!
Such is the alchemy of circumstance
Which alters, by perception’s chemistry,
Condition to condition – life to death.
I see the planets circling round their suns;
I see the galaxies wheel through the gloom;
I see stars burst, and grow, and burst again
To spew great stoles of hotly seething gas
Into unornamented space; I see vast fires,
And mists the length of aeons, stretching forth
To jewel the endless night with newborn stars.
And yet, to me, all, all is emptiness!
To me… yes… for I know that edifice
Spins to a lightless perpetuity,
That all the spangled gems the cosmos flings
Upon the velvet cushion of the dark
Are but a moment’s glimmer. Only I,
The cynic dupe of immortality,
Must watch eternity recede and die.

9 Villanelle
I know the mask of love, I’ve seen it weeping
Beneath the dropping pinpoints of the night,
Longing to wake up love forever sleeping.

Yet tears cannot bribe Death to cease his reaping,
Or quit his harvest or his appetite;
Wherefore love’s mask is sad; I’ve seen it weeping.

They do not know, when love first sets them leaping,
That they’ll be beggared by the harvest-mite,
And left to long for love forever sleeping.

They dream of an unbroken, faithful keeping;
They dream of a continuous delight;
And yet I know love’s mask: I’ve seen it weeping.

Beneath a moving sun, the shades are creeping,
And will, at last, compel love’s acolyte
To long to wake up love forever sleeping.

And yet blind lovers hope for some safekeeping,
To lock love up from the voracious night;
But I know love’s true mask, I’ve seen it weeping,
Longing to wake up love forever sleeping.

10 Madness
My soul revolts!
My soul would run away!
My soul would flee into the bleeding dark!
My eyes are sick with seeing –
all the girls,
the boys,
the mothers,
that I must guide to silence,
drive me to madness!
Who can behold
the torment of the world,
the misery of every living thing
torn from the jaws of life
and flung to doom
and not go mad?
Who that has a soul
can keep away the beast,
the monstrous beast,

11 The Promise
I am the boatman, Charon! Mark my name!
All whom I call must answer to my claim!
And soon you, too, will cringe beneath my glare
And pay the balance of your little fare!
Soon, soon, you will be with me! Soon you’ll know
Into what mists and mysteries I row;
You, too, will penetrate the fog of death,
And superadd your terminating breath;
Soon you will leave man’s markets and bazaars,
And gaze one last time on the brittle stars!
All living things are mine! All will succumb
To silent nothing, endless, cold, and dumb!
I am the steward of Time’s fatal scroll:
Ten thousand ages underneath me roll!
Then steel yourself to bow to my decree:
Abandon hope all you who meet with me!
For I will row you, bloodless, to the shore
Where you must wait and waste forevermore!
It is my sentence to transmit the light
Of all the world to everlasting night,
To row until the dead stars earthward fall,
And universal darkness covers all!

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