West Gallery Music Association
Home   About Us   What's New   Calendar   Quires   Articles   Publications   Resources   Pictures   Discussion Forum   Links


(with West Gallery Connections)

The Choirmaster's Burial | To My Father's Violin | Afternoon Service at Mellstock | The Paphian Ball


(Mellstock: circa 1835)

She turned in the high pew, until her sight
Swept the west gallery, and caught its row
Of music-men with viol, book, and bow
Against the sinking sad tower-window light.

She turned again; and in her pride's despite
One strenuous viol's inspirer seemed to throw
A message from his string to her below,
Which said: "I claim thee as my own forthright!"

Thus their hearts' bond began, in due time signed.
And long years thence, when Age had scared Romance,
At some old attitude of his or glance
That gallery-scene would break upon her mind,
With him as minstrel, ardent, young, and trim,
Bowing 'New Sabbath' or 'Mount Ephraim'.

For 'New Sabbath' see also The Laodician



He often would ask us
That, when he died,
After playing so many
To their last rest,
If out of us any
Should here abide,
And it would not task us,
We would with our lutes
Play over him
By his grave-brim
The psalm he liked best --
The one whose sense suits
"Mount Ephraim" --
And perhaps we should seem
To him, in Death's dream,
Like the seraphim.

As soon as I knew
That his spirit was gone
I thought this his due,
And spoke thereupon.
"I think", said the vicar,
"A read service quicker
Than viols out-of-doors
In these frosts and hoars.
That old-fashioned way
Requires a fine day,
And it seems to me
It had better not be."

Hence, that afternoon,
Though never knew he
That his wish could not be,
To get through it faster
They buried the master
Without any tune.

But 'twas said that, when
At the dead of next night
The vicar looked out,
There struck on his ken
Thronged roundabout,
Where the frost was graying
The headstoned grass,
A band all in white
Like the saints in church-glass,
Singing and playing
The ancient stave
By the choirmaster's grave.

Such the tenor man told
When he had grown old.



   Does he want you down there
   In the Nether Glooms
The hours may be a dragging load upon him,
   As he hears the axle grind
      Round and round
   Of the great world, in the blind
      Still profound
Of the night-time? He might liven at the sound
Of your string, revealing you had not forgotten him.

   In the gallery west the nave
   But a few yards from his grave,
Did you, tucked beneath his chin, to his bowing
   Guide the homely harmony
      of the quire
   Who for long years strenuously ---
      Son and sire ---
Caught the strains that at his fingering low or higher
From your four thin threads and eff-holes came outflowing.

   And, too, what merry tunes
   He would bow at nights or noons
That chanced to find him bent to lute a measure,
   When he made you speak his heart
      As in dream,
   Without book or music-chart,
      On some theme
Elusive as a jack-o'-lanthorn's gleam,
And the psalm of duty shelved for trill of pleasure.

   Well, you can not alas,
   The barrier overpass
That screens him in those Mournful Meads hereunder,
   Where no fiddling can be heard
      In the glades
   Of silentness, no bird
      Thrills the shades;
Where no viol is touched for songs or serenades,
No bowing wakes a congregation's wonder.

   He must do without you now,
   Stir you no more anyhow
To yearning concords taught you in your glory;
   While, your strings a tangled wreck,
      Once smart drawn,
   Ten worm-wounds in your neck,
      Purflings wan
With dust-hoar, here alone I sadly con
Your present dumbness, shape your olden story.



(Circa 1850)

On afternoons of drowsy calm
We stood in the panelled pew,
Singing one-voiced a Tate-and-Brady psalm
To the tune of 'Cambridge New'.

We watched the elms, we watched the rooks,
The clouds upon the breeze,
Between the whiles of glancing at our books,
And swaying like the trees.

So mindless were those outpourings! -
Though I am not aware
That I have gained by subtle thought on things
Since we stood psalming there.



Another experience of the Mellstock Quire

We went our Christmas rounds once more,
With quire and viols as theretofore.

Our path was near by Rushy-Pond,
Where Egdon Heath outstretched beyond.

There stood a figure against the moon,
Tall, spare, and humming a weirdsome tune.

"You tire of Christian carols," he said:
"Come and lute at a ball instead.

"'Tis to your gain, for it ensures
That many guineas will be yours.

"A slight condition hangs on't, true,
But you will scarce say nay thereto:

"That you go blindfold; that anon
The place may not be gossiped on."

They stood and argued with each other:
"Why sing from one house to another

"These ancient hymns in the freezing night,
And all for nought? 'Tis foolish, quite!"

" - 'Tis serving God, and shunning evil:
Might not elsedoing serve the devil?"

"But grand pay!" ... They were lured by his call,
Agreeing to go blindfold all.

They walked, he guiding, some new track,
Doubting to find the pathway back.

In a strange hall they found them when
They were unblinded all again.

Gilded alcoves, great chandeliers,
Voluptuous paintings ranged in tiers,

In brief, a mansion large and rare,
With rows of dancers waiting there.

They tuned and played; the couples danced;
Half-naked women tripped, advanced,

With handsome partners footing fast,
Who swore strange oaths, and whirled them past.

And thus and thus the slow hours wore them:
While shone their guineas heaped before them.

Drowsy at length, in lieu of the dance
'While shepherds watched ...' they bowed by chance;

And in a moment, at a blink,
There flashed a change; ere they could think.

The ball-room vanished and all its crew:
Only the well-known heath they view -

The spot of their crossing overnight,
When wheedled by the stranger's sleight.

There, east, the Christmas dawn hung red,
And dark Rainbarrow with its dead

Bulged like a supine negress' breast
Against Clyffe-Clump's faint far-off crest.

Yea: the rare mansion, gorgeous, bright,
The ladies, gallants, gone were quite.

The heaped-up guineas, too, were gone
With the gold table they were on.

"Why did not grasp we what was owed!"
Cried some, as homeward, shamed, they strode.

Now comes the marvel and the warning:
When they had dragged to church next morning,

With downcast heads and scarce a word,
They were astound at what they heard.

Praises from all came forth in showers
For how they'd cheered the midnight hours.

"We've heard you many times," friends said,
"But like that never have you played!

"Rejoice, ye tenants of the earth,
And celebrate your Saviour's birth

"Never so thrilled the darkness through,
Or more inspired us so to do!" ...

- The man who used to tell this tale
Was the tenor-viol, Michael Mail;

Yes; Mail the tenor, now but earth! -
I give it for what it may be worth.



Home page   |   Resources Index   |   Books Index   |   Recordings Index   |   Literary References