Daryl Runswick writes: After our success with Smart Songs I decided in 2013 to make a new song
cycle with settings of the poems of my wife, Alison Truefitt.
The poems describe a kind of journey, though not as bleak and wintery as that of another famous song cycle. At the start the singer is splitting up with a partner: then we see her living in the countryside as a writer, falling in love twice (with a new place and a new man) suffering the decline and death of her mother, and finally reaching a place 'on the brim of happiness,' facing life's uncertainty.
[ 1 ] Last Night
On the long drive away from you
moon chiming in an empty sky
following a broken white line
out of the labyrinth that was once love
the ash of your last kiss on my lips,
I missed the road home and drove all night
lost, cold, afraid.
At dawn I found it, warm fire blazing,
a feast laid ready, two cats waiting,
a maze of libraries and music rooms,
terraces and gardens, trees, and streams,
sunlight and solitude, and the rest of my life
to know it all.
[ 2 ] The Difference
The difference, you see
How the aeroplane strives upwards, whining, toiling,
how it roars out in the painful assault
how it whimpers on the racks of clouds
upwards, upwards, its toll of hard-won oil
crushed in that metal vice
till it screams out, blasts like a bullet,
forcing the steel thing upward, forward
because it must, must join the phoney universal race —
this fruitless race for the future
But my gull, lone gull,
how it floats on my breath
lies easy over the sea, swerves,
coasts on a warm breeze, hangs still,
high, present, heading west
holding all this sky in silence
open in its wide embrace
that has already lasted forever.
[ 3 ] Not Now
Can’t write till I have found the words
that cut the crap
Can’t read till I have found the book
that answers the Question
Can’t eat till I have done the work
Can’t laugh or dance till I am sure
I’ve made the grade
Can’t love till all of these are done —
say, Wednesday week?
[ 4 ] Robin
In spring heat
under a collapsed shelf
among seed trays, gloves, leaves,
my robin, dead.
I am stopped.
I think of his last hours, days
in prison here.
After many minutes
I pick him up, his red breast
still brave and smooth,
his grey back ruffled
his brown head dusty.
I smooth his small feathers
with the back of my finger.
Under the invisible glass roof
on the cross-wire
I peg him upright by his rigid little feet.
There he stands.
Bold orange breast,
his sightless eyes
lifted to heaven
and he sings.
[ 5 ] Marriage Vows
I never will.
no more hard sentences.
Welcome Miss Spinster!
to your new life,
miles from wet Wales
in sunlit Italy!
I’ll marry Italy!
I’ll marry Italy!
Two whole summers
I sanctified my vows
in churches, galleries,
by rivers, in restaurants
in flowery meadows
and mountains in the sky.
When I met him,
as of course I did,
it was my first lesson
in real honesty,
being now my true self
as he too — no fake
or swivel-talk between us.
A simple stroll,
thoughtful, arm in arm,
back to our several lives
all joyful decrees embraced,
and vows that brought no more constraint
than one entire boundless universe.
[ 6 ] Archduke
In the courtyard of the Royal Academy,
Piccadilly, piccadally, piccalally-la-la-lally
we were talking like old friends —
our first London date.
In the restaurant he took my unpublished hand
‘I’ll be your reader’ he said.
I cried of course. My first reader.
After sausages and mash at the Archduke
under the arches by Waterloo
he kissed me as I ran for my train.
Lightheaded, glancing back, I saw him turn
heavy as a drowning man,
hauling himself from me, as from a shipwreck.
Ah! Fool! I knew it! No future there, nothing at all.
I was too old to start again. He was ill.
But ten years on, he’s well, I’m still a fool —
coupla codgers, married, harried,
completely out to lunch, completely off the wall,
by the sea’s majestic swell, at the Brighton Grand Hotel
well-well, well-well, well-well-well-well-well-well
[ 7 ] Holiday
So we sailed off, floated away
under the wing of the grand
where he sat playing and singing his love songs to me
in the warm night, warmer and grander than any gondola.
Fine, the carved bow
of our antique vessel
that stole us away
out through the open windows
across the lawns and lights of the promenade
out to sea
sky darkening to violet and orange beyond
as he sang on
till the moon rose and stars glittered
and the invisible horizon was all round us
and time closed the circle
and his music held us still, here, always.
[ 8 ] He Played The Wrong Note
In the Mozart Bb Piano Concerto K595 he played the wrong note
and we heard him laugh
as he went on playing
like the god he was
like this Mozart —
invention founting from his whole being
from heart to fingers
unveiling a masterpiece in the air
at a narrow shelf of levers, black and white,
with his prodigious, Michelangelo hands.
Wicked impromptu turns he’d made, and tiny trills, pearls, glees,
and curls, and sparkles, and feathers,
and presents, and astonishments......and....
and then the sublime theme returned
and the air stood still
and that was when he played the Db by mistake
and laughed aloud for pure joy
and went on playing like a god
and the whole audience laughed too
and all the wicked cherubim in heaven —
and there was for that instant no crabbed mind or cramping cleverness
anywhere in the Albert Hall, or in high heaven, or anywhere at all.
[ 9 ] 'It's so far away'
‘It’s so far away,’ she said, ‘it shouldn’t be there.’
Dream-castle of her youth
on the Swiss lake
her first escape from home,
school trip, black stockings, thick tunic,
her heart breathing more joy
than she’d ever known,
— ever would know?
That old picture —
just the thing, I’d thought.
‘So far away.’
‘This picture, you mean?’
She nodded, by a millimetre, still fierce
with the full force of her four-stone skeleton,
strong as an ant
a wreck of twigs and sticks
laid ready to burn
in a stained armchair.
‘It shouldn’t be there.’
Her shins, thin as chair-legs
sharp-edged 98-year-old legs, useless now
that once beat the world record for a 100-yard sprint.
‘So far away.’
Schloss Chillon, a calendar photo
glued badly to a bit of card — anything —
to hide the black gaze of the hated telly —
‘Can’t you cover it somehow?’ she’d said.
Small respite in the fixed cell of her care-home prison.
‘It shouldn’t be there. Too far away.’
‘But pictures remind us of happy times and places.’
It wasn’t her failing memory
or the creased castle.
It was the happy life —
past unthinkable now —
I didn’t understand
didn’t move the bloody thing
out of her single sightline.
Later, when I went to do it
later was too late.
[ 10 ] Grand Hotel, Flying
A moment alone
on the fifth floor landing
of the Grand Hotel
respite from the ones you love.
The empty corridors are watching
but there’s no one
so you burst forth above the noble staircase
and leap down
eight at a time
down the shallow treads, following the carpet’s
swarming vines in black and blue, and blood red,
crazy, like you, as your hands grab each landing’s newell post
to swing round, horizontal,
a hundred and eighty degrees
a human scythe to cut the heads off
ten posh old guests each storey of this
monstrous five-tiered temple, this
white stuccoed statement of total injustice.
Or you fold yourself over the top floor banister
aim at the monumental flower display
five floors down in the biggest bowl in Brighton
scream-squeal down on your belly
feeling sick, being sick, but sticking at it
because a moment’s hesitation and life might set in,
keep you grounded for ever in your stupid habits
cleaning the loo on a daily basis, might set in for ever,
so you wouldn’t even notice, would keep your feet on the ground
forget you ever had wings, or roared down to the Grand front door
and over the traffic
and along the beach
and out over the sea, the sea
and life would stay just a bad habit,
and no homesick chambermaid or wife would ever risk it,
ever break free of it.
[ 11 ] Stain
How summer turned to winter that day
the first rain, distant thunder....
How next morning, early, an entire rainbow stood
full over the place he died
with ghostly echo of itself above
before we heard the truth
but already knew the certainty of death
which enters through the skin
in every place of murder
staining the heart
as the red stain spread there across the stones
and the stain of fear among those darkened trees.
How our fine and noble deer, sleek, tall, shining gold-auburn pelt,
strong, aware, his antlers — a mighty cathedral organ —
borne high with careless elegance and poise —
how his every move liquid, strong, majestic —
compelled us, silent, awed as if that organ
rang with Bach’s prophetic Adagio.
How we’d seen the dog Tilo, two days before
catch a scent in the field and leap for joy,
twist wild, high,
squealing and snorting. How we never thought.
And how much wet, gleaming crimson he held in him,
and how the cloddish farmboy must have dragged him,
spreading the tell-tale carpet to his door, and how his poor
starving wife rocked with glee to tell the tale,
and white Tilo’s coat was brown with guilt,
and his thin flanks all swollen tight.
And worst of all how the King’s wary son, only months old,
came searching for him, terrified, and smelled the story,
turned and fled and never came again.
How dismal the days that followed, with no due ceremony,
no justice served, no sign or reassurance of safety restored.
The whole landscape lay grim with stain and wrong.
Only a small piece I found of torn pelt, unmistakable,
gold-auburn in the mud. I have it still.
[ 12 ] Wisdom Tree
Fog so dense I lost my bearings..........Something there? . . .
. . . . as we toil to the col . . . for one final farewell....
Yes — a sheep, long dead, hung from the wire
where fear hurtled it headfirst at the fence
and here’s my wise tree, lone hawthorn set with needles
on the valley’s rim, above the cauldron
of grey nothingness, of nothing there any more,
where I bury my memorial among the invisible hills —
‘A letter never sent’ — first page of my unfinished novel
sealed in a metal lozenge box six inches underground
marked by a wrench we hammer into frozen earth
till only its metal tips are visible, like buds.
Still there, I know, braced against Welsh gales,
is that grievous tree I never see, my wound at her root.
My partner in pain, I learned her wisdom: the task is to endure.
Ah! but there’s another now — a flowering ash, alone and high,
beacon in bright sun of green Mugello
siren among Italian vetch and broom, swallowtails and swifts,
axis of these great circling hills.
I’ve learned her lesson too: how to stand at beauty’s pole,
on the brim of happiness, and bear uncertainty.
Alison Truefitt writes:
The poems, part of a much larger group, were not written as a sequence, but certain autobiographical threads are apparent:
Wet and windy mid-Wales: where I lived happily on a remote small-holding for decades during and after the break-up of a long relationship, recorded in the first song, which ends with a wildly idealized description of my Welsh home. Also the location of my first 'wisdom tree' (last song) and a place almost totally devoid of aeroplanes, which made moving to London, under the Heathrow flightpath, hard to cope with. Hence the second song: 'The Difference'.
Falling in love with a new place (Italy) and a new man: despite the fact that I'd vowed never to marry again, and had more or less moved (alone) to Italy.
Italy, where Daryl and I spend half of each year, in a converted barn on an organic farm high in the Mugello hills, near Florence, which we found nearly 10 years ago and where he now has a big music studio. A remarkably peaceful and beautiful place. Also the location of the true story told in the penultimate song; 'Stain' - about a majestic Stag that was among the many wild deer we get to know as they graze on the farm and hills surrounding us.
Frail old mother, the Grand Hotel in Brighton and our Bösendorfer grand piano: – the first two unexpectedly connected by the fact that the hotel, being in effect a very posh Care Home, was the only place I found to take my frail old mother. Already in a supposedly good care home in Guildford, she needed breaks from the tiny room and terribly inadequate care there. Soon Daryl and I were hooked on the Grand Hotel ourselves. The grand piano's connected only by the pun.
Recorded at The DReam Room, London, 2014-15
Engineered and produced by Daryl Runswick
Piano technician Allen Wright
The piano is Bösendorfer No. 23270
This composition and these recordings are covered by