28 Nov Open road
Open Road marks my fifth collaboration with the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892). I respond keenly to Whitman’s very personal vision, a fusion of the spiritual and the physical, and his strongly rhythmic language, echoing the cadences of the King James Bible. In Open Road, Whitman creates his own Adam, before the fall: life-embracing, open-hearted, on an epic journey, rejoicing in the earthly paradise he finds around him.
Whitman’s long lines and purple passages are a challenge to set and to sing. The soloists deliver the more personal, incantatory lines, with the choir responding, shading, interfering, echoing. The essential relationships in the poem—those between man and woman, between the individual and the collective, and between our dual masculine and feminine natures—are embodied by the male and female soloists, in combination with the ensemble. These forces, with their rich compositional possibilities, connect back to the oratorio tradition, one beloved in English Canada since Whitman’s days.
Open Road was commissioned by Soundstreams Canada (Lawrence Cherney, Artistic Director).
Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman, edited by James Rolfe
AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune–I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.
You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!
You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me;
I think whoever I see must be happy.
From this hour, freedom!
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space;
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought;
I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women, You have done such good to me, I would do the same to you.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.
Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear, it would not amaze me;
Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear’d, it would not astonish me.
Allons! after the GREAT COMPANIONS! and to belong to them!
Committers of crimes, committers of many beautiful virtues,
Enjoyers of calms of seas, and storms of seas,
Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary toilers,
Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of children, bearers of children,
Journeyers with their bearded and well-grain’d manhood,
Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass’d, content,
Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.
Allons! the road is before us!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Mon enfant! I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself, before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?