In the Silent Void
Composed November 1981.
Performed at Royal Holloway College, Egham
5 March 1982
In the Silent Void
All texts are translations from the Chinese by Arthur Waley, and are included in his collection Chinese Poems (George Allen and Unwin, 1946)
The instruments of music are made ready,
Strong wine is in our cups;
Flute-songs flutter, to a din of magic drums.
Sound scuds and scatters, surges free as a flood...
And now when the drinkers were all drunken,
And the sun had fallen to the west,
Up rose the fair ones to the dance...
In veils of soft gossamer
All wound and meshed;
And ribbons they unravelled,
And scarfs to bind about their heads...
They have raised their long sleeves, they have covered their eyes;
Slowly their voices
Swell the steady song.
And the song said:
As a frightened bird whose love
Has wandered away from the nest
I flutter my desolate wings.
For the wind blows back to my home,
And I long for my father’s house.
Subtly from slender hips they swing....
Ablaze with liquid light
Their soft eyes kindle.
So dance to dance
Endlessly they weave...
“Man in this world lodging for a single lifetime
Passes suddenly like dust borne on the wind.
Rather than stay at home wretched and poor,
For long years plunged in sordid grief,
Let us hurry out with high steps
And be first to reach the highways and fords.”
Our party scattered at yellow dusk and I came home to bed;
As I lay on my pillow my vinous complexion, soothed by sleep, grew sober.
I woke at midnight and went for a walk...
In front of the tower the ocean moon had risen.
The swallows, about to return to the beams, went back to roost again.
The candle at my window, just going out, suddenly revived its light.
All the time till dawn came, still my thoughts were muddled;
And in my ears something sounded like the music of flutes and strings.
I will cast out Wisdom and reject Learning;
My thoughts shall wander in the Silent Void.
Always repenting of wrongs done
Will never bring my heart to rest.
I cast my hook in a single stream;
But my joy is though I possessed a Kingdom.
I loose my hair and go singing;
To the four frontiers men join in my refrain.
This is the purport of my song:
“My thoughts shall wander in the Silent Void.”
Our wandering eyes are sated with the dancer’s skill,
Our ears are weary with the sound of [“kung”] and [“shang”]*
Our host is silent and sits doing nothing;
All the guests go on to places of amusement.
*Notes of the scale (Waley)
from In the Silent Void
released June 14, 2016
Performers: Brian Dennis (voice)
Andrew Jones (viola)
Christopher Hobbs (keyboards, percussion)
all rights reserved