A number of these songs are from the writing of Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian mystical poet, novelist and playwright who lived from 1861–1941. He wrote devotional poetry sung to the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One that is longed for, the Beloved of the heart. The Bengali language in which he wrote is a notably musical language, such that Tagore’s poetry is often referred to as song, as in the well known Gitanjali, or ‘Song Offerings’. Tagore himself translated the original Bengali into English. Tagore traveled all over the world as a spiritual teacher and as a respected social and political thinker, sharing his readings. He played an important part in the Indian Renaissance, a cultural movement to bring modernity into traditional India; encouraging both the opening of India to the West and, simultaneously, a deeper exploration of his country’s own cultural roots. Gandhi had great regard for him, calling him the ‘Great Sentinel’. Still revered in India as one of the greatest Indian poets, Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
The poetry of Hilde Domin has touched thousands of people from all over the world, with her books translated into 16 languages. In Europe she is considered one of the great poets of our time, and has received every major prize and honor there over the years. Surprisingly, little of her poetry has been translated into English, and very few people in the U.S. have even heard of her. I’m hoping to rectify that a little with these song settings…
The poems in these songs were translated by my husband and me, and were approved of heartily by Hilde. Her use of language is so remarkable that we wanted the translations to be as close to the original as possible. They are therefore literal translations with no poetic license on our part. In the last years I have worked with many of her poems, putting together a Domin song cycle which I hope to record in the near future.
Born in Germany in 1909 with Jewish roots, Domin fled from Hitler’s Germany in 1932, first to Rome, then England, and finally to the Dominican Republic where she and her husband were given asylum. After 22 years of exile, they returned to Germany to finally settle in Heidelberg, where she lived the rest of her life. Domin began writing poetry when she was 40, just after the death of her mother. She continued to write prolifically, regularly giving readings up until her death in 2006, at age 96.
I had the privilege of developing a wonderful friendship with Hilde in the last year of her life, begun through the sharing of the songs of her poems. She was a great spirit, and our encounters have been one of the most precious gifts in my life. It’s an honor to be able to begin sharing her poetry with the English speaking world through these songs. Many thanks to her publisher, Fischer Verlag, for allowing me to do so.
Psalms and Other Texts
The psalms are more familiar to our culture, and have been songs of solace for thousands of years. I chose these particular psalms because the relationship they express to a holding power and presence (that some call God, or often in the psalms, Lord) is deep and universal, and for their wonderful poetic language.
The others songs (other than the texts I wrote) are from diverse 20th century poets; Theodore Roethke, Mary Austin, Peter Haertling, and Hannah Senesh. All of these songs are practically verbatim what the poet wrote, so they are not written out again in the original text section.
All of the texts are expressions of a vibrant, all-encompassing, life giving spirituality that speaks of wonder and awe, hope and longing, faith and reverence, love and mystery, loss and despair, grace and gratitude, pain and trust. They speak of a universal hope and trust that even in the darkest night the light of morning will come.