Sea-Drift - the poem
It's important for a singer to access the words at an early stage in the process of learning a new work, so I'll often read through the words away from the music to try and understand them. In the case of Sea-Drift I've made a recording of them so that I can hear them out loud.
You can hear that recording online here.
The text of Delius' Sea-Drift is taken from Walt Whitman's great collection called Leaves of Grass. Although I've got a copy of this collection somewhere - and it's quite a brick of a book - it's currently been misplaced. However, there is an online version, and the bit of it that includes Sea-Drift (note Whitman's hyphen) is here.
The words which Delius sets are just part of the first section of Sea-Drift; this first section is called 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking'. The Delius text starts at 'Once Paumanok' [at about 1 minute 50 seconds on the recording] (Paumanok is an old American name for Long Island) and ends with 'We two together, no more' [8:51].
It's a typically dense yet loose poem from Whitman, which (and forgive me if I've misinterpreted, or missed an undercurrent of meaning) tells of a man, recalling an episode in his childhood when he spent time on the beach with two mockingbirds which had migrated up from Alabama. One day, the female of the pair fails to return to the nest - lost, maybe dead - and the male mourns her, waiting for her to return. The boy-turned-man appears to comment that this reflects a loss in his own life. At the end of the poem (not set by Delius) he repeats the word 'death' nine times in two separate sets of repetition; earlier in the poem the seabirds have also had many repetitions ('soothe' and 'loved' are just two of them).
These words which Whitman gives to the mockingbirds (I've tried to signal them with a different inflection on the recording) are, to my ear, like the sea as it constantly and repetitiously comes and goes in waves and tides. But they are also often onomatopoeic of the cries of seabirds. I've tried to reflect that - hope it doesn't sound too silly.
I'm performing Sea-Drift with the UWE Orchestra and Choir under Ian Holmes in a very exciting programme in the Colston Hall, December 6th afternoon.