Seal Lullaby

Rudyard Kipling is one of those poets almost every literate English speaking adult has heard of, even if they know very few of his poems. The poem “If” is probably his most often-quoted one, in my lifetime. I don’t know that many people could name more off the top of their heads. Here, however, is one I read for the first time today, from “The Grey Seal”:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

It’s a lovely poem, really, but it was the following choral setting of it that had me absolutely transfixed. It’s worth a listen to with headphones if you have them.

Beautiful choral music had a way of bringing tears to my father’s eyes, I remember, and it does mine as well. This certainly did.


​A friend of mine asked me to write something that could be used at her wedding in place of the traditional bridal march. She wanted something softer and sweeter, and described to me how it would be used for her little flower girl and her, with the ceremony to be held outdoors in a garden.

I gave it the imaginative name “Entrance”, playing on the fact that two different english words are spelled the same way, one meaning “to enter”, and the other meaning “to hypnotize or enchant” — both of which seemed apropos.

Below is that song, in all its no-fidelity splendor.

Favorite Songs: Here’s Where the Story Ends

We took a winter trip to Washington DC in the early 90’s: my then wife, my stepson (who was 6 years old) and me. I remember sitting in a restaurant with them in Old Town when I first heard this song. I didn’t know what it was called or who did it, an experience common to people who grew up before the Internet was a thing. It was several years before I found out, and by that time, our marriage was on the rocks and the song seemed that much more apropos.

People I know places I go
Make me feel tongue tied
I can see how people look down
They’re on the inside

Here’s where the story ends

People I see, weary of me
Showing my good side
I can see how people look down
I’m on the outside

Here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
Oh I never should have said the books that you read
Were all I loved you for
It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes me wonder why
And it’s memories of the shed that make me turn red
Surprise surprise surprise

Crazy I know, places I go
Make me feel so tired
I can see how people look down
I’m on the outside

Oh here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
And who ever would’ve thought the books that you brought
Were all I loved you for
Oh the devil in me said go down to the shed
I know where I belong
But the only thing I ever really wanted to say
Was wrong, was wrong, was wrong

It’s that little souvenir of a colorful year
Which makes me smile inside
So I cynically, cynically say the world is that way
Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise

Here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis

"Three Beautiful Birds of Paradise"

Three beautiful birds of paradise
(My love has gone to war)
Three beautiful birds of paradise
Have passed this way —

The first was bluer than the sky,
(My love has gone to war)
The second was white as the snow,
The third was red as vermillion.

"Beautiful little birds of paradise –
(My love has gone to war)
Beautiful little birds of paradise,
What do you bring here?"

"I carry an azure blue-eyed glance."
(Your love has gone to war)
"And I must leave on a snow-white brow,
A kiss, even purer."

"You, red bird of paradise —
(My love has gone to war)
You red bird of paradise,
What are you bringing me?"

"A loving heart, flushing crimson."
(Your love has gone to war)
"Ah, I feel my heart growing cold . . .
Take that with you as well…"

Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis
Mon ami z-il est à la guerre
Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis
Ont passé par ici.

Le premier était plus bleu que le ciel,
(Mon ami z-il est à la guerre)
Le second était couleur de neige,
Le troisième rouge vermeil.

"Beaux oiselets du Paradis,
(Mon ami z-il est à la guerre)
Beaux oiselets du Paradis,
Qu'apportez par ici?"

"J'apporte un regard couleur d'azur
(Ton ami z-il est à la guerre)"
"Et moi, sur beau front couleur de neige,
Un baiser dois mettre, encore plus pur."

Oiseau vermeil du Paradis,
(Mon ami z-il est à la guerre)
Oiseau vermeil du Paradis,
Que portez vous ainsi?

"Un joli coeur tout cramoisi"
Ton ami z-il est à la guerre
"Ha! je sens mon coeur qui froidit…
Emportez le aussi…"

Influences: “Another Grey Morning”

This is a series I’ve thought about for years (around four), and the idea is, artistic works that actually changed the way I approached what I do, how I thought or felt. Many of these are not particularly well-known.

I have hesitated to start this series because I am frankly admitting how much of what I do is consciously derivative, in some sense. However, as I posted elsewhere yesterday, being unoriginal doesn’t mean you have nothing worth saying, as long as you say it honestly.

Each one of these has a story that goes with it, of course, and I will tell those in as much detail as seems appropriate. – S.B.

I was twenty years old, and she was nineteen. She was a singer, and lived with her father in a fabulous house on the beach. Her parents were recently divorced; and her father was gone months at a time in the oil business.

The first night I spent with her at that house was more of a graduation for me than anything I went through at the end of high school or college. She was (by my standards) wild; and she poured herself into everything with more passion than I had ever witnessed first-hand.

We had gotten to know each other on a tour bus; we were at different colleges, but the two schools had a joint traveling chorale we each belonged to; she, the future professional singer, and me, the amateur crasher from the mathematics school.

On that bus, where we were for ten days, she listened to a lot of music she shared with me. One of her greatest passions, at that time, was the music of James Taylor, who I was of course familiar with, but not to level of fandom she was. The “JT” album was something like 5 years old at that time, but that was one of two she listened to repeatedly at that period, and  as we got more into each other, I listened to it, too.

I only knew one song from that album, but it had been, previously, my favorite James Taylor tune, “Handyman”. As I got to know the other songs on the album, each one spoke to me in that way music does when it is just the right music at just the right time in your life.

One song, in particular, struck me, listening to it at that fabulous two story house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on a spring morning with the windows open and drapes blowing slowly in the breeze:

When I feel as though my love is sinking down,
The sun doesn’t want to shine —
When it feels like she won’t face another day,
Life is unkind, she’s frozen in time —

And here comes another grey morning.
A not so good morning after all.
She says “well, what am I to do today
With too much time
And so much sorrow.”

She hears the baby waking up downstairs.
She hears the foghorn calling out across the sound.
Repetition in the morning air
Is just too much to bear,
And no one seems to care.

If another day goes creeping by
Empty and ashamed,
Like an old unwanted memory
That no one will claim —
The clouds with their heads on the ground,
She’s gonna have to come down.

She said “Move me, move me,
I’m locked up inside.”
Well, I didn’t understand her
Though God knows I tried.

She said “Make me angry,
Just make me cry.
But no more grey morning,
I think I’d rather die.”

Three things about the song struck me. The first was, this song seems to be at least partly about postpartum depression. A male singer-songwriter, writing and singing about the feelings of a woman facing depression was a new thing to me, and was fairly new in 1977 when the song came out.

Secondly, and I might be imagining this, the song seems to be implying some sort of affair being initiated at the end, as the woman in the song seems desperate to feel — well, anything other than depression.

Finally, the song is through-composed as opposed to strophic, that is to say, it doesn’t follow the neat, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus form of so many popular songs. The form seems to have been dictated by the content. It also ends in a musically ambiguous position (i.e., not on the tonic chord).

I loved this song, and learned to play and sing it, which I have done (every so often) ever since. In addition, the idea of trying to describe what women who I have known might be feeling in songs and poetry didn’t seem like a complete absurdity or insult after hearing this song. The song takes an ambiguous perspective, and shapes it’s form as necessary to keep the feeling — all of these are devices I’ve used, consciously, in some measure due to my reaction to artistry of the song.

The woman I was dating then went on to a successful career as a professional opera singer; we are Facebook friends now, both married with kids. I’ll always be grateful to her for that time in my life, even though I’m not entirely sure she quite remembered who I was when I first reached out to her, memory being, of course, one of life’s great asymmetries.