Sea Drift and COP21

One thing had been worrying me about Sea Drift - the big Delius tone poem for baritone, choir and orchestra which I'm performing next Sunday with UWE Singers and orchestra. It's this: Whitman's poetry - in the printed version at least - makes a distinction between the words of the narrator and the he-bird by putting the he-bird's words in italics, while leaving the narrator in normal print. 

If you don't know the poem, it's a wonderful picture of the narrator looking back on a period in his childhood when he used to go down to the beach to watch the sea birds. One year a pair turn up from Alabama, but in the course of the summer the she-bird, having laid her eggs, disappears - "maybe killed", but we never find out her fate. The rest of the poem is about the he-bird's desperate attempts to look for, call to and find his mate, and his eventual sorrow when she does not return. 

As I say, the printed Whitman is pretty clear about who says what. The Delius, however, blurs them - the chorus and the soloist sometimes sing the bird's words, sometimes the narrator's. 

And then, of course, I worked it out. The two are the same. The narrator, as an adult, has lost someone close to him - we don't know who, and it doesn't matter  - and is looking to his boyhood and this sea-bird's cries of grief as an example of expressing and venting his own emotion. 

In a week when the world is going to be focussing on the relationship between nature and humankind, it might be an important message.