This work was commissioned jointly from Philip Larkin and myself (Anthony Hedges) by J.H.Fenner & Co, Ltd. to celebrate the opening of the Humber Bridge. This recording formed part of a Meridian LP of my music and was performed by by Hull Choral Union, conducted by (the late) Alan Spedding with the Humberside Sinfonia and Adrian Thompson (solo tenor). The text is available in Larkin’s Complete Poems (2003 edition), Faber & Faber. There is also a You Tube video of Philip Larkin reading the poem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNUZ-s7FmYw
The text is inluded at the end of these notes.
When Philip first sent me the poem I replied that I was delighted with it, but couldn’t see how such a brief and concentrated text could be stretched to fill the 20 minutes of music I was commissioned to provide. Could he please add to it? His reply was uncompromising: the poem was complete and long by his standards; there was nothing more he could add. The only way out of this quandry that I could think of was to write a long, slow-moving opening section based mainly on his opening words “Isolate city”- one of the few phrases in the poem that could take extended repetitions without impeding the flow of the whole text. And that is what I did. When he heard the work performed Philip was warm in his praise of my setting and critics at the first performance were uniformly enthusiastic. Sadly the transfer to Soundcloud has resulted in a loss of volume and clarity from the original recording.
BRIDGE FOR THE LIVING
Isolate city spread alongside water,
Posted with white towers, she keeps her face
Half-turned to Europe, lonely northern daughter.
Holding through centuries her separate place.
Behind her domes and cranes enormous skies
Of gold and shadows build; a filigree
Of wharfs and wired, ricks and refineries,
Her working skyline wanders to the sea.
In her remote three-cornered hinterland
Long white-flowered lanes follow the riverside.
The hills bend slowly seaward, plain gulls stand,
Sharp fox and brilliant pheasnt walk, and wide
Wind-muscled wheatfield wash round villages,
Their churches half-submrged in leaf. They lie
Drowned in high summer, cartways and cottages,
The soft huge haze of ash-blue sea close by.
Snow-thickened winter days are yet more still;
Farms fold in fields, their single lamps come on,
Tall charch towers parley, airily audible,
Howden and Beverley, Hedon and Pocklington.
While scatted on steep seas, ice-crusted ships
Like errant birds carry her loneliness,
A lighted memory no miles eclipse,
A harbour for the heart against distress.
And now this stride into our solitude,
A swallow-fall and rise of one plain line,
A giant step for ever to include
All our dear landscape in a new design.
The winds play on it like a harp; the song,
Sharp from the east, sun-throated from the west,
Will never to one separate shire belong,
But north and south make union manifest.
Lost centuries of local lives that rose
And flowered to fall short where they began
Seem now to reassemble and unclose,
All resurrected in this single span,
Reaching for the world, as our lives do,
As all lives do, reaching that we may give
The best of what we are and hold as true:
Always it is by bridges that we live.
Poem by PHILIP LARKIN
- A Humber Bridge Cantata