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  • Scott Williamson

The Curlew | 30/30 Project Day 16

Here is my "poem of the day" for December, part of Tupelo's 30/30 Project.

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The Curlew (or, Counterpoint with Yeats, Jackson and Martin)

in memory of Lenore Bassett (1925-2016)

Laughter is possible / Laughter is possible / Laughter is possible (Shirley Jackson)

O, curlew, cry no more in the air,

I have no friends, and you’re one of them. (Agnes Martin)

Or only to the waters in the West;

“On the Perfection Underlying Life”

Because your crying brings to my mind

the panic of complete helplessness /… drives us to fantastic extremes.

Passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair

the “demon of the mind”

That was shaken out over my breast;

“She didn’t so much follow as test, and expunge”

There is enough evil in the crying of wind

Her work, an “essay in discretion, inwardness and silence.”


(Roanoke | Princeton | 2016)


The italicized lines are from W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Curlew,” which the British composer Peter Warlock (né Philip Heseltine, 1894-1930) set as the title movement of his five-part cantata for tenor and chamber ensemble. Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was an important writer whose work is experiencing at least a momentary renaissance, thanks in part to recent publications. Agnes Martin (1912-2004) was an abstract expressionist painter (sometimes mislabeled a minimalist) whose work is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Guggenheim. This version is one in an ongoing series of drafts which use or apply musical techniques like "counterpoint" to poetry. See earlier posts here for more.

This poem is in memory of my beloved friend, and long-time Opera Roanoke trustee and patron, Lenore Bassett (1925-2016), and in honor of her mensch of a husband, Sage. Zichroman liv'rachah, as we will say tonight at Temple. "May their memory be for a blessing." Lenore's life was a blessing to all who knew her, as her warm and expansive family will attest. We love you.

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