The White Birds

The White Birds

for SATB choir and piano; 5′ (2010)
poetry: W.B. Yeats
(commissioned by the Festival Choir of Madison)

performed by the Festival Choir of Madison, dir. Bruce Gladstone:

buy the score:


I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

composer’s note:

Black-White-Of-Sea-Gulls-At-Jersey-Shore-Surf“The White Birds” is one of W.B. Yeats’ lesser-known poems, and while it’s considered one of his lesser works, there’s a beautiful romanticism about it, a wonderful tone that feels escapist and pastoral in the best of ways. My setting of that poem is warm and romantic, full of lush choral textures, washes of sound from the piano, passionate outbursts, lovely English-style counterpoint, oceanic ripples of vocal sound, and generally all kinds of pleasant choral singing. While there is certainly drama in this poem (and in my setting of it), “The White Birds” emphasizes mood-setting and lushness, creating a pool of lovely choral & piano sound that paints a vivid picture of “white birds on the foam of the sea.”

sample page:
The White Birds

The White Birds