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A Late Winter, An Early Spring

A Late Winter, An Early Spring

Audio Recording

The American poet Elizabeth Bishop often writes about the harsh natural beauty of the northeastern United States, where I was raised. Her poem “The End of March,” describes a long walk on a beach on a cold day, in the time before winter has finally yielded to spring. “Everything was withdrawn as far as possible,/indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken,/seabirds in one or twos.”

On the sand lies a mysterious piece of string: “Then we came on lengths and lengths, endless, of wet white string,/looping up to the tide-line, down to the water,/over and over.”

Towards the end of the poem, she writes: “The sun came out for just a minute./For just a minute, set in the their bezels of sand,/the drab, damp, scattered stones/were multi-colored/and all those high enough/threw out long shadows,/Individual shadows, then pulled them in again.”

Like the poem, the music begins and ends with coldness: stony, dark, shrouded and still. In between, thin, tentative filaments unfurl, uncoiling themselves, reaching outward tentatively, like the first early roots through hard spring ground. Hopeful, new and strange, they wind and twist, circling back on themselves like a “wet white string” on the tide. They reach toward the late winter sun: distant, but blazing and blinding.

Grey yields to color, then overtakes it. Shadows grow, lengthen and then withdraw. Prayer-like and whispering, spring waits, patiently.

The music is commissioned by the Cantus Ensemble and the Croatian Composers’ Society. It is dedicated to the Cantus musicians and to conductor Ivan Josep Skender.