Three Comic Songs


Text: W. H. Auden

Tenor and piano

This is my second set of songs to poems by Auden (1907-73). I wrote the Four W. H. Auden Songs when I was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and Auden himself came to hear a private performance there in 1957 and expressed his approval. Britten set Roman Wall Blues as a trio in his 1941 operetta Paul Bunyan, which was unknown until its revival in 1976. The first performance was given by David Johnston and Daphne Ibbott at Leighton House, London, on 12 May 1972; the first BBC R3 broadcast by Ian and Jennifer Partridge on 21 February 1977; the recording by Martyn Hill and the composer.

A light-hearted reflection on the transitory nature of what looks like a one-night stand.

2. HAPPY ENDING (‘The silly fool, the silly fool’) (1929)
A series of rhyming frivolities.

3. ROMAN WALL BLUES (‘Over the Heather the wet wind blows’) (1937)
A Roman soldier posted at Hadrian’s Wall to protect the north of England from invasion feels homesick and simply wants his girl and his pay.

My second thoughts condemn
And wonder how I dare
To look you in the eye.
What right have I to swear
Even at one a. m.
To love you till I die?

Earth meets too many crimes
For fibs to interest her;
If I can give my word,
Forgiveness can recur
Any number of times in
Time. Which is absurd.

Tempus fugit. Quite.
So finish up your drink.
All flesh is grass. It is.
But who on earth can think
With heavy heart or light
Of what will come of this?

The silly fool, the silly fool
Was sillier in school
But beat the bully as a rule.

The youngest son, the youngest son
Was certainly no wise one
Yet could surprise one.

Or rather, or rather
To be posh, we gather,
One should have no father.

Simple to prove
That deeds indeed
In life succeed
But love in love
And tales in tales
Where no one fails.

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.
The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.
The mist creeps over the cold grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.
Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.
Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish.
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.
She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.
When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson