Faked Cities

"They can hide their prisons and the concentration camps … [but] look for the silences, the emptiness, because that's what they can't cover up."

Elizabeth Becker on the Khmer Rouge’s pretend cities.

Los Angeles, San Francisco & Washington D.C.

I left Austin on a Delta flight into L.A. I was really excited to arrive. Austin was a beautiful city, but there is an amazing energy is big cities that I love, and the bustle of LAX help set that mood.

After checking into my airbnb and getting some dinner, I was going to head to meet some pals from Australia for a drink, when I popped back to my Airbnb. It was a little chilly compared to the humid heat of Texas and I needed some jeans. My airbnb host had a friend over for drinks, offered me one and an invitation to see a friend of his workplace - a private museum of antiquities for the mega rich to look at and buy. 

what an incredible experience; Egyptian artificers, including a $2.5 million bust of Akhenaten!, Chinese terracotta soldiers, indigenous American statues, Aztec skulls, Roman pots and African carvings. An incredible experience.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Janet, an amazing soprano living in L.A. and hopefully we can work on a project in the future. 

I also went on a tour of the historic Paramount Studios, which any fan of the film Subset Blvd., as I am, would froth over.  

However, my time in L.A. was mostly taken up spending some great times with good friends, eating well, drinking coffee and with one special American friend lots of deep discussions around Australian politics, culture, issues in the American society and the future of both countries. 

Some of the South American pottery in the back room.  

Some of the South American pottery in the back room.  

Los Angeles was quite whirlwind, and I left after 3 nights to a much colder San Francisco. 

I was staying in a lovely apartment in the Mission area, which was the former Hispanic neighbourhood.  

I drank great coffee, ate some really good food and experienced two very moving artistic moments. 

The first was planned; attending rehearsal of Gustav Mahlers amazing 9th Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Beautiful playing, amazing sound quality and MTT was a real inspiring artist, who had insightful things to say about the work and produced a great sound from the orchestra.

The second was a total fluke. I had a spare hour, so wandered the Museum of Modern art where there was a small exhibition on post WWII California artists who had studied at the local art school. The one work that really stuck out to me was Narkissos by Jess, a phenomenal work of pencil and collage that he created across his life time. I didn’t mind his paintings as transformative, but the pencil work, especially this huge seminal piece was really incredible and inspiring. 

A bad photo of  Nirkissos

A bad photo of Nirkissos

A hilarious moment happened while leaving SF. I found out that the amazing Ashley Dougan, choreographer for the origonal Orpheus season was flying in the morning I was flying out. So, I thought I could wait for a bit, say hi then check in with an hour to spare. I forgot about how busy American airports are, and couldn’t get my case on board in time! So, the very helpful Alaskan Airline rep got me on a later flight and an upgrade! 

My imediate reaction to Washington D.C. was informed by friends who mentioned how relaxed, interesting and livable the city is. and I totally agree. A relaxed, warm, welcoming city full of so many opportunities to nerd out, which is such an important thing for me! I spent most of my time riding around on bikes, which was an excellent way to see the city. Did a lot of sightseeing and museum hopping.

My favourite musuem would have to be the Museum of the American Indian, which still shocks me to say. I would assume it would be Native American, but no. And a lot of the videos of the native Americans consulted on exhibitions referred to themselves as Indians, rather then native Americans. I found this very interested and didn’t realised that it might not be as taboo as I thought to refer to someone as an American Indian. The musuem was a tasteful and insightful way to explore the various first nationals cultures of all the americas. Knowing and seeing more about the March of tears, the Indian war and the civil rights movement was harrowing. 

While in D.C. I was an excellent performance of some Mozart music with the National Symphony with Nathalie Sturtzmann, who I adore. While at the performance I chatted to a lovely lady, Nancy, next to me. A big music fan and supporter in the city, we exchanged emails and she said she would have a listen to my music.

The other concert I went to was Hello, Dolly! It was a total joy. Betty Buckley was so amazing to see live and delivered so well in the role. The rest of the cast was amazing, the production was really excellent, fun and colourful and the band played excellently.

Going to the Kennedy Centre was a little bucket list moment that I loved.

The Kennedy Centre.  

The Kennedy Centre.  

An amazing moment for me in D.C. was joining up to the Library of Congress and exploring the archieve. I handled the origonal scores of Candide by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony and late works of Stravinsky. All amazing, but the Stravinsky was life changing. Most were final drafts for the publisher, so not hand written but still very insightful, especially to the detail of the eye and the handwriting of the master. 


 As with the Ravel and Debussy works in Austin, incredibly humbling to see and feel the works of the great masters, providing a bridge to the past that is so inspiring to me. 


Current ideas for works: 

  • a symphony based on the key moments from Orpheus. Versions for both orchestra and concert band.
  • a large scale work for violin and ensemble, comprising some staging and movement ideas I want to develop. Variation around a melody from a song called Salvation.  Maybe even violin concerto, eventually. 

Special thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for contributing funds to making this trip and performance possible. 


*sorry for any typos, I’ve written this on my phone. 

Austin, TX

I arrived into Austin last week to rehearse the USA premiere of Orpheus. 

I flew from Sydney to Dallas, arriving to a tornado warning in a hot and steamy part of the world. 

My first reflections, while in a cab to downtown, driving through thick rain, was how wet and green east Texas is. The Hollywood perception is of a dusty, wild place not a land of farming, big rivers and sub-tropical storms.

I was only in Dallas for the evening, but I visited the spot of JFK’s assasination and viewed what was the Texas book depository. These sort of spaces are fascinating to me. A very ordinary part of the world is now imbued with a nostalgia, importance and melancholy of the events that occurred there. It also sort of elevates the feeling of a place. It’s just an ordinary intersection, in the downtown area of any town in the US, with a Main Street and American flags and elegant and simple monuments from the New Deal time. But now you can feel that this spot was once an area that held the gaze of the country and the world. 



Texas Book Depository, now a museum to JFK and the assasination.  



A New Deal era redevelopment, with added monument to JFK.

I then took a bus from Dallas to Austin, which passed through Waco. I had just watched the HBO series on the plane about David Koresch, so was an odd feeling passing through the real area.

Arrived into Austin, which automatically had a more welcoming, busy and cosmopolitan vibe to Dallas. A smaller city, but proud of its weirdness it has a very familiar feeling to Melbourne.  It stands up to its reputation as a blue dot in a sea of red. 

Aside from the usual tourist traps of the Capitols building, museums and parks I’ve enjoyed wanting downtown and east Austin. One of the biggest irritations for melbournians mourning to USA is the adventures faced for good coffee, and I’d say my Austin experience has been a strong 7.5 out of 10, so pretty damn good considering. Jess Voigt, a pal from VCA days was helpful showing me some good coffee and excellent food. I stayed with her for a few nights and was great to catch up, talk old times and hear about her plans and projects here in Austin. 

An a-typical view while walking along a highway. 

An a-typical view while walking along a highway. 


My reason traveling to ATX is to rehearse and perform Orpheus. In a slightly revised version, it’s been a thrill working with Density 512 and Prismatx ensemble on this piece. The three singers have been inspiring, powerful and incredibly well prepared. The musicians have an excellent sound, very confident, full and rich.


We were lucky enough to perform some extracts on a public radio station yesterday, which is broadcast today and will be added to their website, which I will share when ready. 


It’s interesting to think of the differences with Aussie musicians, especially on a work with rhythmic complexity and such a richness of tone required. I think in Oz we have such a strong focus on chamber music in our training that rhythm and the ability to listen, balance and match colour while playing is perhaps more adept then our American cousins. However, the richness of sound with this group, and the tone colour present in the ensemble is very different to what I experience when we did the work in Oz. 

The gallery were performing in is a concrete space, with a nice acoustic. The audience received the first performance (last night at time of writing) warmly and I received some really lovely feedback from audience members. I had some really lovely words from composer Akshaya Avril Tucker. I was lucky enough to hear a concert of her music earlier in the week, which included a remarkable work for solo cello that I’d love to try and program in Melbourne. 


As as I write this I’m enjoying a coffee and some downtime before another wander. We have the final performance tonight and then tomorrow I’m going to a library as part of the university that has in its collections, among other things, original scores of La Mer, Daphnis et Chloe (quoted in Orpheus) and correspondence from composers, authors and artists. Very excited for that! 

The next part of the journey will take me to Los Angels for pride. 


Thoughts on new works: 

  • something for Jess, as a thank you
  • development of a cycle for voice and piano to include some short piano solo pieces  

Special thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for contributing funds to making this trip and performance possible.  


*apologies for any weird typos, this has been written on my phone!  


EURYDICE Jill Suzanne Morgan, mezzo-soprano

ORPHEUS Michael Dixon, tenor

CALAÏS Mikhail Smigelski, bass-baritone

Density 512 in collaboration with prismatx ensemble

Evan Lawson, conductor
François Minaux, flutes
Bethany Lawrence, oboe, english horn
Abbey Young, clarinet
Sarah Hetrick, saxophones
Alexander Cruz, trombone
Ellie Yamanaka, harp
Cy Miessler, percussion
Alan Chen, violin
Matt Armbruster, cello
Andy Rogers, bass
Sara Sasaki, Director of prismatx series


View from the Butler School of music, where some rehearsals took place. 

Orpheus interview with CutCommon

“Orpheus is the great musician of antiquity”


January 21, 2019 Articles


Separated from the love of his life Eurydice, Orpheus vows to descend into the underworld and win her back. But, just before they are both freed, he turns back to look – a move that sees his love lost forever…

From Berlioz’s Les Troyens to Scriabin’s Prometheus,ancient Greek myths – with their epic themes, tragic love stories, and comic routines – have inspired many settings in classical music.

Of all of these myths, few in the canon are as compelling as that of Orpheus. Both Monteverdi and Gluck wrote operas based on the musician hero, but now composer Evan Lawson has written his take on the classic myth – or, as he calls Orpheus, “the great musician of antiquity”.

Forest Collective composer Evan Lawson captured by Karin Locke.

Evan has been at the helm of the Forest Collective since its inception in 2009. He has been enticed by Greek mythology before, writing an opera on the story of Calypso and Odysseus in 2013. And now, he wants to retell the Orpheus myth and empower “the voices of characters generally disadvantaged” in the story. Evan’s Orpheus focuses on the lesser-known queer relationships in the myth, and tells some of the lesser-known details of the legendary tale.

With all things considered, this isn’t your average opera. In fact, it’s not even an opera! Orpheus is ballet-opera, which is built around danced and sung passages. The collaboration is undertaken with dancer Ashley Dougan.

Evan wants to flip the script on the story and let the audience see the events from another perspective. I had a chat with Evan about the direction of Orpheus, and what inspired him to write a ballet-opera in the first place.

Hi Evan, thanks for chatting with us. What compelled you to retell the Orpheus myth, and what do you think has inspired its many settings in music?

Orpheus is the great musician of antiquity. He was meant to have been the most beautiful lyre player and singer of the ancient Greek recitations, so that in itself lends itself easily to musical dramatisation. It’s also a damn good story, especially the section where he goes to the underworld. Not only does he survive this huge task, but the interaction with Eurydice is sad, beautiful, and poignant – the idea that he was so overcome with emotion, love, and anxiety that he did what he was told not to do, and turned around and lost her forever.

I wanted to retell this well-known myth because there is an unknown aspect of it in the relationship with Calais, an adolescent man who Orpheus had a pederasty relationship with. This sort of relationship is common to ancient Greek myth and culture in-general, where an older man has a mentor-type sexual relationship with an adolescent man. We often know these myths through Victorian versions that eliminate any same sex relationships.

Aside from that, most of my music focuses on ancient Greek myth and tradition, as I find it an ever-inspiring source of musical and social ideas, most of which are the building blocks of contemporary Western art and thought. 

LGBTQIA+ relationships and characters can often be found throughout Greek myth. What made you decide to focus on the relationship between Orpheus and Calais specifically?

It added an interesting complexity to the relationship with Eurydice. In the versions I could find, it was clear he loved Calais while on the Argo with him. In the opera, we open with Orpheus saving his life, and the other Argonauts, from the lure of the Sirens. Orpheus and Calais sing a love duet and enjoy their love for each other.

After this episode, in all the versions I found, there was nothing about how he met Eurydice or of what happened to Calais: he simply went on to marry Eurydice and then she died, which leads to the famous cave sequence. I decided to use this lack of information to focus more on the pawns of the story, Calais and Eurydice, and show how the story is always geared toward the hero, leaving these often distraught characters in their wake.

So, the Orpheus and Calais relationship is given focus, but so is Eurydice as a strong woman, made to suffer and die for the sake of a male hero.

This is your second opera, and your first was about Calypso and Odysseus. What draws you to telling the stories of ancient Greek myth and can we expect to see any overlap between the two works?

In Calypso and Odysseus, it was a very similar situation; Calypso is almost an afterthought in the Odyssey. She’s hardly given one page, but Odysseus stays on her island for something like seven years! And she’s portrayed as the scheming, lustful woman, so I wanted to right that wrong. The man had a wife and kids back home, but it was okay for him to stay in her kingdom and for him to be taken advantage of…

I understand the libretto is a combination of Monteverdi and Gluck’s libretti of their respective Orpheus operas. What were some of the challenges in putting these two stylistically different artists together?

It was from a desire to take the voices of characters generally disadvantaged in opera historically (women, mainly, but also in this instance the ‘gay’ man Calais), and take those words and try to empower these characters, rather than disadvantage them as they generally are in the older works.

I’m very aware of being a white man who is creating female characters and making them go through horrific things. In this version, Eurydice’s death and the journey of her soul from body to Hades is depicted quite graphically. This is the norm in opera – with men making female characters go through pain – and I wanted to try and empower the female character and performer to show a more genuine and human side, less dependent on the actions of a heroic man; and, also, just to acknowledge the fact that I am a man asking a female performer to portray this.

The libretto also contains words from Phemocles, a lesser-known Greek writer of prose and poetry, and a section from a Shakespeare sonnet. 

How did you decide to make the work a ballet opera? What draws you to the format?

Opera isn’t a new form for me: I’ve already had one performed, and used to write many while I was in high school. Dance is a form that I love, but had never worked in. So once the opportunity arose to work with the amazing Ashley Dougan, I thought of the Orpheus project.

My initial conception of the work was for it to be a cross-genre symphony-opera, so it seemed logical to take another genre-bending step and include dance into that, too. 

The form, ballet-opera, is one that seems new to us now, and is common with many contemporary composers. However, in the works of Gluck, Lully, and the operas of the French empire, dance was a very common aspect to an operatic production, so there is a canon to draw on.

What are some of the key messages of the Orpheus myth that audiences will take away for your work?

I hope the audience will take away an ease in seeing two men declare their love to each other through song. But also, within an opera context, be confronted by the true pain of a woman and how we allow these characters – crafted by men but portrayed by women – to live on stage. 

Ashley Dougan captured by Meghan Scerri.

See the Forest Collective present Orpheus as part of Midsumma Festival and Convent Live, January 31-February 3. The work is supported by Creative Victoria and City of Yarra and is a co-commission between Forest Collective and Prismatx Ensemble.

dream big, and make room for conversation

Forest Collective's artistic director Evan Lawson writes about the importance of conversation for successful collaboration - conversation both before, and, crucially, also after the concert. Forest Collective's next event takes place at Abbotsford Convent on25-27 May, a collaboration with queer artist Addison, with arrangements by Lawson. The Collective's concert in November 2018 will feature works by three of the AMC's Associate artists, Jakob BraggAlex Turley and Samantha Wolf.

There are two prongs to programming - firstly, the fun one: creating a 'pipe dream' list and dreaming up huge possibilities for collaborators, commissions, and venues. And then the pragmatic one: how the project will actually work, and what it will take from an operational perspective to make it happen. At Forest Collective, we have limitations because of tight finances - a challenge faced by many ensembles and artistic collectives, both emerging and otherwise - but this limitation also allows us significant freedoms. We do not have to adhere to any specific funding guidelines, so working creatively within those aforementioned limitations, we are afforded the opportunity to dream as big as we possibly can.

When I'm speaking with collaborators, I frequently quote a piece of advice given to me by my theatre mentor, David Chisholm, who said the best way to approach any new project is to work within the largest canvas you can dream up. There's no point putting restrictions on yourself to begin with because you can always make things smaller or narrow the plans down the track. I've learned it's significantly harder to go big after you undersell your idea than cut back if you've drafted something huge.

There are always risks that are taken at the beginning of a project, that may work spectacularly or fail just as well. As I continue to build works, both with Forest and outside of it, I'm learning that the inevitability of failure is not something to shy away from, but, in fact, something to embrace from the beginning. Allowing yourself the opportunity to create and acknowledging that things will, in fact, go wrong at some point during the process, is the exact freedom that I try to instill in all the members of the Collective.

A huge part of this process has been fostering conversation between performers, collaborators, patrons and management personnel, with a focus on what is discussed once the applause has died down and the project has come to an end. In classical music, you often don't get the opportunity to debrief after a performance - there are the usual discussions during the rehearsal period before an audience is invited in, and, while you may consider how to make the work better for next time once the concert is over, there is often not the time allocated to talk about the process of putting the work on stage in the first place.

With Forest Collective, I'm interested in developing a space for collaboration and conversation, and am seeing the most value in having these conversations once the project is over. Regardless of how well the project has gone, we bring people together and talk about the process from start to finish, allowing everyone to share their thoughts and suggestions for how things can run next time. It means shifting the focus from the wrong notes or technical difficulties to the rehearsal period, the conversations, and the value of collaborating. We hear a lot about the fact that the performance is the 'final' thing, but I've found this to be untrue. Focussing on the life of a work outside of our performance, even if it was a commission from the collective, is crucial not only for the composer but for the wider artistic community. Compositions deserve more airtime than they're given, and the philosophy that any given work has room to grow and be improved upon helps us stay accountable to the people we collaborate with.

My job as Artistic Director of Forest Collective means a lot of artistic things, as the title suggests - creating programs and approaching composers, lighting designers, and opera singers - but the most important role I play is one of mediator; allowing conversations to happen and managing expectations. It's my job to make sure everyone has a voice in the ensemble, not only artistically but personally. In all forms of art, the most important factor is the people - those onstage and those offstage - and balancing collaborations and conversations between people is how we get things done. For all the roles I play within the ensemble, the thing I've always been most interested in is teamwork. Honestly, only 10% of your time is spent on music, when you account for the management and administrative work that is required ahead of mounting a show!

Giving composers, including myself, a constructive but nourishing environment is a really important part of Forest, and one we take very seriously. Part of our philosophy has always been the importance of supporting emerging composers and giving them the opportunity to work 'up-close-and-personal' with individual musicians, meaning part of my job is facilitating those opportunities with the ensemble. For our end-of-year concert in November, we have commissioned two works from young Australian composers - Jakob Bragg (QLD) and Alex Turley (WA) - and we will be giving the second performance of a work from Samantha Wolf (QLD).

I have been a fan of Jakob's music for a while and have admired his compositional aesthetic and work ethic since I met him in 2016. I heard Alex Turley's work during the Cybec showcase with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and was impressed with his cinematic colour palette and understanding of orchestration. Samantha's work, The more I talk about it the bigger it gets, which she wrote during her studies in composition at the University of Melbourne, is an important one, focusing on the experience, as a woman, of walking home at night. The piece explores danger and freedom for women and is an important conversation for us to continue in this second performance of the work.

I am always thrilled and excited to provide opportunities to create and perform new sounds. I think it's essential that emerging and developing artists are given wide and many opportunities to broaden their practice, but most importantly an environment where risks can be taken without judgement.



Crown of Ptherirein program note

The crown is the perfection of deceit, it is the deceit that circles in on itself, it is that perfection which includes deceit within it.

-Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso


This quote from the 1988 book is in relation to the gift of a crown from Dionysus to Ariadne during his seduction of her.

In ancient Greek ptherirein means to destroy but also to seduce. This piece plays with the dichotomy of these two ideas.  My inspiration for the piece is also peppered with the power play between human woman and immortal, male god. A majority of my music focuses on these ancient greek stories and I am very interested in this idea of manipulation and seduction, a recurring theme of these tales.

Another interesting factor with such old myths is that they can have various versions. In Ariadne's’ case, one telling of the story Dionysus rapes her, in another he seduces her, and in yet another she is a willing participant in the seduction.

All these elements are at play in this piece, twisting and turning in a musical labyrinth where I play with flow and transfer of energy.

This is the second piece I’ve had the pleasure of writing for Crystal, having met at the 2015 SoundSCAPE New Music Festival in Italy. I want to thank her for the opportunity and wish her the best with this performance.      

Peane from Hyacinth program note

Peane for Hyacinth opens with a dark and cold first movement introduces the listener to the

main musical material present throughout the work. This bleeds into the opening chords of

the second movement. The second movement is relatively conventional in its structure with

passages for soloists, orchestra, and a cadenza followed by a coda. The third movement is a

short flourish for the orchestra, a sort of “dawn chorus” followed by a duet or love song for

the two soloists with some interjections from the orchestra.


The work’s title and inspiration come from the mythology of Hyacinth who loved Apollo but

in an attempt to show off to the God, the young hero threw a discus and in trying to catch it

the west wind Zephyr killed him. It is from his death that the flower bearing his name was



A “peane” is a hymn in the name of Apollo. This work is a depiction of a love song the young

hero (the clarinet) may have sung to Apollo (in traditional Greek mythology represented by

the Lyre – in this composition, the Harp).


The orchestra’s role at the beginning is as Zephyr, eventually taking over by the end of the

movement. The third movement, (dawn chorus) is inspired by the natural world followed by a

final love duet for the hero and the God.


This work was premiered as a three-movement version in August 2012 with myself playing

clarinet, Catherine Ashley on harp and the Victorian Youth Symphony Orchestra conducted

by Patrick Burns. Tonight, we hear the recently revised version which includes a new first


Sikinnis III for solo piano

Sikinnis III (2015) follows from two previous works for solo flute (2010), flute, viola and harp (2013) and piano (2016).

A sikinnis is a vigorous dance performed during a satyr play in ancient Greece theatre. These dances are strongly associated with the half-faun character of satyr’s and generally explore hyper-masculine, male fantasy.   

In my works titled “Sikinnis” I am generally exploring the idea of dance, joy and sexuality. In these pieces I generally contrast two musical ideas with different aural outcomes, and to me, emotional experiences. In this third Sikinnis I’m most interested in the muddy, almost overly resonant textures, as at the beginning of the piece. To me there is a fascinating melancholy in the sustained sounds available with use of the piano pedal.  

Generally these moments arise from the lower register of the piano to then focus on more hyperactive rhythms.

This is contrasted with higher register material which is less rhythmically rapid and more focused on melody, line and a sense of sparkly-ness.

There is a third element in block chords, which help form a basis for the ongoing resonance of the piece.     

New Opera

Name a company championing, or even just presenting an opera from our time?

"The artist needs an ivory tower, not as an escape from the world, but as a place where he can view the world and be himself. This tower is for the artist like a lighthouse shining out across the world."

Charles Koechlin 

Demeter And Persephone

Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro' at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower,
Might break thro' clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more -- my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet --
"Mother!" and I was folded in thine arms.

Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers -- but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.

Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee
Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
"Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?"
And out from all the night an answer shrill'd,
"We know not, and we know not why we wail."
I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask'd the waves that moan about the world
"Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?"
And round from all the world the voices came
"We know not, and we know not why we moan."
"Where?" and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! "Where"? -- and turn'd,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee, --
The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth,
The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; --
I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
"Where"? and I heard one voice from all the three
"We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us." Nothing knew.

Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying "The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness."

So the Shadow wail'd.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd
To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Vere hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.

Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their "Fate beyond the Fates"
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless
Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson


"The way that Hadrian took the boy on his travels, kept close to him at moments of spiritual, moral or physical exaltation, and, after his death, surrounded himself with his images, shows an obsessive craving for his presence, a mystical-religious need for his companionship."

Lambert, Royston (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. George Weidenfeld & Nicolson.



As I floated down impassive Rivers,

I felt myself no longer pulled by ropes:

The Redskins took my hauliers for targets,

And nailed them naked to their painted posts.


Carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton,

I was indifferent to all my crews.

The Rivers let me float down as I wished,

When the victims and the sounds were through.


Into the furious breakers of the sea,

Deafer than the ears of a child, last winter,

I ran! And the Peninsulas sliding by me

Never heard a more triumphant clamour.


The tempest blessed my sea-borne arousals.

Lighter than a cork I danced those waves

They call the eternal churners of victims,

Ten nights, without regret for the lighted bays!


Sweeter than sour apples to the children

The green ooze spurting through my hull’s pine,

Washed me of vomit and the blue of wine,

Carried away my rudder and my anchor.


Then I bathed in the Poem of the Sea,

Infused with stars, the milk-white spume blends,

Grazing green azures: where ravished, bleached

Flotsam, a drowned man in dream descends.


Where, staining the blue, sudden deliriums

And slow tremors under the gleams of fire,

Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our rhythms,

Ferment the bitter reds of our desire!


I knew the skies split apart by lightning,

Waterspouts, breakers, tides: I knew the night,

The Dawn exalted like a crowd of doves,

I saw what men think they’ve seen in the light!


I saw the low sun, stained with mystic terrors,

Illuminate long violet coagulations,

Like actors in a play, a play that’s ancient,

Waves rolling back their trembling of shutters!


I dreamt the green night of blinded snows,

A kiss lifted slow to the eyes of seas,

The circulation of unheard-of flows,

Sung phosphorus’s blue-yellow awakenings!


For months on end, I’ve followed the swell

That batters at the reefs like terrified cattle,

Not dreaming the Three Marys’ shining feet

Could muzzle with their force the Ocean’s hell!


I’ve struck Floridas, you know, beyond belief,

Where eyes of panthers in human skins,

Merge with the flowers! Rainbow bridles, beneath

the seas’ horizon, stretched out to shadowy fins!


I’ve seen the great swamps boil, and the hiss

Where a whole whale rots among the reeds!

Downfalls of water among tranquilities,

Distances showering into the abyss.


Nacrous waves, silver suns, glaciers, ember skies!

Gaunt wrecks deep in the brown vacuities

Where the giant eels riddled with parasites

Fall, with dark perfumes, from the twisted trees!


I would have liked to show children dolphins

Of the blue wave, the golden singing fish.

– Flowering foams rocked me in my drift,

At times unutterable winds gave me wings.


Sometimes, a martyr tired of poles and zones,

The sea whose sobs made my roilings sweet

Showed me its shadow flowers with yellow mouths

And I rested like a woman on her knees...


Almost an isle, blowing across my sands, quarrels

And droppings of pale-eyed clamorous gulls,

And I scudded on while, over my frayed lines,

Drowned men sank back in sleep beneath my hull!...


Now I, a boat lost in the hair of bays,

Hurled by the hurricane through bird-less ether,

I, whose carcass, sodden with salt-sea water,

No Monitor or Hanseatic vessel could recover:


Freed, in smoke, risen from the violet fog,

I, who pierced the red skies like a wall,

Bearing the sweets that delight true poets,

Lichens of sunlight, gobbets of azure:


Who ran, stained with electric moonlets,

A crazed plank, companied by black sea-horses,

When Julys were crushing with cudgel blows

Skies of ultramarine in burning funnels:


I, who trembled to hear those agonies

Of rutting Behemoths and dark Maelstroms,

Eternal spinner of blue immobilities,

I regret the ancient parapets of Europe!


I’ve seen archipelagos of stars! And isles

Whose maddened skies open for the sailor:

– Is it in depths of night you sleep, exiled,

Million birds of gold, O future Vigour? –


But, truly, I’ve wept too much! The Dawns

Are heartbreaking, each moon hell, each sun bitter:

Fierce love has swallowed me in drunken torpors.

O let my keel break! Tides draw me down!


If I want one pool in Europe, it’s the cold

Black pond where into the scented night

A child squatting filled with sadness launches

A boat as frail as a May butterfly.


Bathed in your languor, waves, I can no longer

Cut across the wakes of cotton ships,

Or sail against the pride of flags, ensigns,

Or swim the dreadful gaze of prison ships.





A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels

Someday I’ll talk about your secret birth-cries,

A, black velvet jacket of brilliant flies

That buzz around the stenches of the cruel,


Gulfs of shadow: E, candour of mists, of tents,

Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of parsley:

I, purples, bloody salivas, smiles of the lonely

With lips of anger or drunk with penitence:


U, waves, divine shudders of viridian seas,

Peace of pastures, cattle-filled, peace of furrows

Formed on broad studious brows by alchemy:


O, supreme Clarion, full of strange stridencies,

Silences crossed by worlds and by Angels:

O, the Omega, violet ray of her Eyes!


The Rooks

(Les Corbeaux)


Lord, when the fields are cold,

When, in the abject hamlets,

The long angelus is silent...

On nature, deflowered, old,

Falling from the open sky

Let the lovely rooks sweep by.


Strange army with your stern calls,

Cold winds attack your nests!

You, along the yellowed river-edge,

Over the roads’ with old crosses, fall,

Over the wayside ditches, and the alleys,

Disperse yourselves, then rally!


In thousands, over the fields of France,

Where sleep the dead of yesteryear,

Wheel, then, in the wintry air,

So each traveller, at a glance

Remembers! Be the call to duty,

O our black funereal beauty!


But, saints of heaven, at the oak’s top,

Mast lost in the charm of fading day,

Leave the little warblers of May

For those imprisoned in the copse,

In depths from which one cannot flee,

Who defeat, without a future, see.