The Moon Songs

The song cycle The Moon Songs, a winner of the Vera Hinckley Mayhew Composition Competition in 2000, is offered here freely for download in PDF format. Please contact me (mryantaylor@gmail.com) when you perform this work as this information is essential for my grant applications, etc..

Whimsical, macabre, deeply spiritual: the poetry of Vachel Lindsay has long attracted me for it’s wild variety, lyric sensibility and deep emotional impact. Although made famous by such poems as “The Congo” and “General William Booth Marches into Heaven” (the title poems for the anthologies from which “The Moon Songs” were selected), I have been attracted mainly to his more concise poems “in which the moon is the principle figure of speech.” These poems explore human perspective, Linday’s hypothesis being that “the moon is a mirror” in which we find what we bring. Lindsay wrote many of these moon poems and it was difficult to choose between so many fine poems. In the end, I based my selection on variety, dramatic contrast and a progression towards my own view of the moon, one that is spiritual.

“The Moon Songs” were written in 1999 at the request of my friend, Heather Chipman Morrey. They have since been revised and updated. Originally the seventh song was scored for six soloists, this updated version replaced that piece of chamber music with a version in solo form.

Here is a recording of the first performance by Heather Chipman Morrey and pianist Dwight Bigler. Recorded live at a Brigham Young University recital.

  1. 1-WhatGrandpatoldtheChildren.mp3
  2. 2-WhattheHyenaSaid.mp3
  3. 3-WhattheLittleGirlSaid.mp3
  4. 4-WhattheMinerintheDesertSaid.mp3
  5. What the Rattlesnake Said (not available)
  6. 6-TheStrengthoftheLonely.mp3
  7. What the Man of Faith Said (not available)

A performance of the first six of the seven songs at a Salty Cricket Composer Collective concert featuring soprano Venicia Wilson:

The Texts:

Selections from General William Booth Marches into Heaven and The Congo by American poet, Vachel Lindsay.

What Grandpa Told the Children

The moon? It is a griffin’s egg,
Hatching to-morrow night.
And how the little boys will watch
With shouting and delight
To see him break the shell and stretch
And creep across the sky.
The boys will laugh.
The little girls, I fear, may hide and cry.
Yet gentle will the griffin be,
Most decorous and fat,
And walk up to the Milky Way
And lap it like a cat.

What the Hyena Said

The moon is but a golden skull,
She mounts the heavens now,
And Moon-Worms, mighty Moon-Worms
Are wreathed around her brow.
The Moon-Worms are a doughty race:
They eat her gray and golden face.
Her eye-sockets dead, and molding head:
These caverns are their dwelling-place.

The Moon-Worms, serpents of the skies,
From the great hollows of her eyes
Behold all souls, and they are wise:
With tiny, keen and icy eyes,
Behold how each man sins and dies.

When Earth in gold-corruption lies
Long dead, the moon-worm butterflies
On cyclone wings will reach this place –
Yea, rear their brood on earth’s dead face.

The Moon’s the North Wind’s cooky

The Moon’s the North Wind’s cooky.
He bites it, day by day,
Until there’s but a rim of scraps
That crumble all away.
The South Wind is a baker.
He kneads clouds in his den,
And bakes a crisp new moon that . . . greedy
North . . . Wind . . . eats . . . again!

What the Miner in the Desert Said

The moon’s a brass-hooped water-keg,
A wondrous water-feast.
If I could climb the ridge and drink
And give drink to my beast;
If I could drain that keg, the flies
Would not be biting so,
My burning feet be spry again,
My mule no longer slow.
And I could rise and dig for ore,
And reach my fatherland,
And not be food for ants and hawks
And perish in the sand.

What the Rattlesnake Said

The moon’s a little prairie-dog.
He shivers through the night.
He sits upon his hill and cries
For fear that I will bite.

The sun’s a broncho. He’s afraid
Like every other thing,
And trembles, morning, noon and night,
Lest I should spring, and sting.

The Strength of the Lonely

The moon’s a monk, unmated,
Who walks his cell, the sky.
His strength is that of heaven-vowed men
Who all life’s flames defy.

They turn to stars or shadows,
They go like snow or dew –
Leaving behind no sorrow –
Only the arching blue.

What the Man of Faith Said

The dew, the rain and moonlight
All prove our Father’s mind.
The dew, the rain and moonlight
Descend to bless mankind.

Come, let us see that all men
Have land to catch the rain,
Have grass to snare the spheres of dew,
And fields spread for the grain.

Yea, we would give to each poor man
Ripe wheat and poppies red, –
A peaceful place at evening
With the stars just overhead:

A net to snare the moonlight,
A sod spread to the sun,
A place of toil by daytime,
Of dreams when toil is done.

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