Four Poems of Alan Porter

Counter-tenor and harpsichord (1968)

Translation – The Stallion – The River – The Shining of Peace

Alan Porter (1899-1942) was a distinguished poet and critic, well known in the 1920s and 30s in Britain and America until his untimely death at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, where he was teaching.

Peter Dickinson chose four poems from The Signature of Pain (1930), to make a short cycle for counter-tenor and harpsichord – much as he had earlier chosen five uncollected poems by Porter for his choral cycle The Dry Heart (1967).

Translation ends with an image of a distant ship in an angry sea; The Stallion portrays a disillusioned horse in a winter landscape; The River describes frightened minnows in the water; and The Shining of Peace is a prayer for the reconciliation of lovers.

The first performance was given by Owen Wynne and Alan Cuckston on 8 August 1968 and the first BBC broadcast on 31 March 1969.

The cypresses of heavy hue
Stand up like images of glass.
A thousand diamonds of dew
Scatter the sunlight in the grass.

The burning seagulls dip and soar. 
The breakers given an angry sound;

They leap against the level shore
And toss the milk-white pebbles round.

Far out a solitary boat
Worries and battles to be free:
At heaven's gate it seems to float,
Trembles, and plunges in the sea.

The grey grass in the early winter
Stiffens and crinkles up for cold;
The air withers the big hemlocks
And bracken fronds are brown and old.

"Where is the world?" said the black stallion:
And shook his head: and stamped in wonder:
"Where is the world? I smell battle,
I hear shouting and hooves' thunder."

Over the frozen field he clatters
To reach the time his bones remember.
Poor stallion! There's nothing here
But a bare hedge and bleak December.

The gravel shone with streaks of gold
Under the golden light of day:
The summer air no more than trembled

And all the minnows ran away.

To still the beating of their hearts
They gathered in a great platoon.
"What blew so thunderous?" they said:
"Is the Last Judgment here so soon?"

One took his courage in both hands
And crept out on a bold campaign:
The shadow of a starling fell,

And how he bolted back again!

Blest be the shining of that star

In the soul's calendar
Whose aspect favouring and mild

Brings lovers to be reconciled.

In primitive dark woods they strayed,
Bitter and most afraid:
Malignant shadows moved around,
And sullen heat, and sullen sound.

Sweet star, that with one prick of light
Puts every fear to flight!
Nay these faint shews of heaven increase 
Till the vext world is bright with -peace.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson