for tenor, horn and piano (poems by Marjorie Agosín)
Van Gogh’s Flowers was written at the request of my colleagues at the University of Louisville, Daniel Weeks, Bruce Heim, and Naomi Oliphant, who were looking for more repertory to perform together. It took quite a while to find a set of poems that I both was interested in setting and that seemed to fit with the particular sound world of this relatively unusual ensemble. Finally I came across Marjorie Agosíns book, Starry Night, an entire collection about various aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work.
I chose five poems about flowers, or perhaps more accurately, five poems that use flowers as the starting point for further psychological exploration. They range in mood from intimate to extroverted, with occasional erotic allusions.
I have previously used poems of Marjorie Agosín as the text for my song cycle, Las desaparecidas, and as the inspiration for an instrumental piece, Las viudas de Calama. Those are very political works, emphasizing the tragedies of recent South American history (Agosín is Chilean), while this is a set of reflections on art and love.
Mad about yellow,
faithful follower of
I go into the storm
shredded by light.
I set my easel in fertile
I paint blind and drunk
glorying in my work
In the drowsiness of this afternoon
you gather flowers, herbs of the South
farther South than happiness.
your hand fuses with a bouquet of poppies
Your fingertips are the ceremony of lavender.
I gaze at you in the daily sweetness
of this life
and you are so beautiful I cannot paint you
you are more lovely and distant than
violets and roses,
than all the depths and fecundity of the bright
In a forest of lavender,
the aroma of the body is a cliff
with bits of sugar and alcohol for love
and you so naked beneath my body
and your face astonished
before the certainties of love.
The entire sky
drifting up into
of the mauve
Lost in a field of heavy petalled
beating in celebration
into this reddish garnet brushwood,
twisted round with garlands and damp grass,
Poems from Starry Night, by Marjorie Agosín, translated from the Spanish by Mary G. Berg. ©1996 by Marjorie Agosín and Mary G. Berg. Published by White Pine Press. Used by permission.