Category Archives: Poem settings

My Boy Jack [demo]

My setting of the poem by Rudyard Kipling. It’s often assumed that it refers to the loss of his son John, presumed killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915. The confusion was probably increased by the TV adaptation of David Craig’s play, which missed out the 3rd Act and finished with Kipling reciting the poem. However, while Kipling’s own grief did, no doubt, contribute to the overall tone of the poem, it was first published at the top of a series of articles on the Battle of Jutland, in which the British fleet sustained heavy losses, and it seems to me (and others) that, given the importance of ‘the tide’ in the poem, that the name Jack probably reflects the more generic ‘Jack Tar’. (While the earlier ‘Tommy; has a very different tone, it does use the generic name ‘Tommy Atkins’ in a somewhat similar way.)

‘My Boy Jack’
1914-18

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide. 

David Harley

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The Carpenter’s Son [instrumental version]

Copyright David Harley, 1976. All rights reserved.

This is an instrumental version of my setting from a poem from ‘A Shropshire Lad’. The song was originally intended to be sung unaccompanied, but it somehow developed a guitar accompaniment with a slight Middle Eastern feel, and the first section is very much based on that.

The faster second section was meant to have a more medieval feel, and includes an overdubbed bouzouki. Cittern would have been more appropriate, perhaps, but I didn’t have one to hand. Strangely, it seems to have finished up sounding a bit like the Philip Glass Ensemble (but with much less time between changes), but I like it. Still a work in progress.

I’ll upload it shortly, but for the moment here’s a link to the MP3 on Soundcloud.

Same version uploaded to one of my blogs:

David Harley

The Pilgrim [demo]

The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley)

Poem by William Butler Yeats, published in New Poems in 1938, the year before he died. Set to music by David Harley, whoever he is. Guitar and vocal put straight down in one take with a little vocal overdubbing on the chorus. CD version probably won’t be much different.

I fasted for some forty days on bread and buttermilk,
For passing round the bottle with girls in rags or silk,
In country shawl or Paris cloak, had put my wits astray,
And what’s the good of women, for all that they can say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

Round Lough Derg’s holy island I went upon the stones,
I prayed at all the Stations upon my marrow bones,
And there I found an old man, and though, I prayed all day
And that old man beside me, nothing would he say
But fol de rol de rolly O.

All know that all the dead in the world about that place are stuck,
And that should mother seek her son she’d have but little luck
Because the fires of purgatory have ate their shapes away;
I swear to God I questioned them, and all they had to say
Was fol de rol de rolly O.

A great black ragged bird appeared when I was in the boat;
Some twenty feet from tip to tip had it stretched rightly out,
With flopping and with flapping it made a great display,
But I never stopped to question, what could the boatman say
But fol de rol de rolly O.

Now I am in the public-house and lean upon the wall,
So come in rags or come in silk, in cloak or country shawl,
And come with learned lovers or with what men you may,
For I can put the whole lot down, and all I have to say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

Breathe My Lute [demo]

One of my Housman settings. However, this one isn’t from A Shropshire Lad.

Every so often, a tune just pops into my head and demands to be written. Strange how often that’s happened when reading Housman…

This is the latest version, including a guitar part.

The  poem was apparently written by a very young Housman (15) for a play, as a song to be sung by Lady Jane Grey while in prison awaiting execution. It somewhat resembles a lyric by Louisa McCartney Crawford (1790–1858) set to music by George Arthur Barker as part of a sequence of Songs of Mary Queen of Scots – The Captivity opens with the line ‘Breathe, breathe my Lute that melting strain My soul delights to hear’. Clearly there are parallels in the context of the two lyrics. It also reminds me somewhat of Byron’s We’ll go no more a-roving.

Breathe, my lute, beneath my fingers
One regretful breath,
One lament for life that lingers
Round the doors of death.
For the frost has killed the rose,
And our summer dies in snows,
And our morning once for all
Gathers to the evenfall.

Hush, my lute, return to sleeping,
Sing no songs again.
For the reaper stays his reaping
On the darkened plain;
And the day has drained its cup,
And the twilight cometh up;
Song and sorrow all that are
Slumber at the even-star.

David Harley

When I was one and twenty [demo]

Actually a setting of two verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’:  XVIII (Oh, When I Was In Love With You) and XIII (When I Was One and Twenty). There are already demo recordings on this site of the two individual settings, which use the same tune, but this is a sketch for a more ambitious orchestral arrangement that combines the two. Sadly, I didn’t have an orchestra handy, so the strings here come courtesy of a Yamaha keyboard. The guitar part is actually a guitar, though. 🙂

[Cleaned up the vocal a bit on the first section.]

  XVIII

          Oh, when I was in love with you,
           Then I was clean and brave,
          And miles around the wonder grew
           How well did I behave.

          And now the fancy passes by,
           And nothing will remain,
          And miles around they'll say that I
           Am quite myself again.
 XIII

          When I was one-and-twenty
           I heard a wise man say,
          "Give crowns and pounds and guineas
           But not your heart away;
          Give pearls away and rubies
           But keep your fancy free."
          But I was one-and-twenty,
           No use to talk to me.

          When I was one-and-twenty
           I heard him say again,
          "The heart out of the bosom
           Was never given in vain;
          'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
           And sold for endless rue."
          And I am two-and-twenty,
           And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.