A little flock from Iceland (Peter Bird)

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  • (Posted 2006-03-10)  CPDL #11206:      (Sibelius 5)
Editor: Peter Bird (submitted 2006-03-10).   Score information: Letter, 53 pages, 917 kB   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: Following the full score are: text pages containing the poems, with explanatory notes; flute part; violin part.

General Information

Title: A little flock from Iceland

Composer: Peter Bird

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SecularPartsong

Language: English
Instruments: SATB chorus, brief SATB solos, flute, and violin.

First published: 2006
Description: Based on 4 new narrative poems about dramatic encounters from ~900 AD to ~1250 AD. The first two are fiction, and the second two are based on historical events. Romantic in style; Modern in harmony. 17:10.

External websites:

Original text and translations

English.png English text

I. Lón
Swans in Iceland: white on black.
Westward come wending, appearing in pairs;
Strong wing beats thunder in crystalline air;
Willfull to breed on the bourn of despair.
Iceland, Ireland: out, and back.

Men in longships, helmets bright,
Brought with them dozens of Ireland’s daughters.
Red-haired and white-robed, just as they caught her,
One of them walks all alone by the water,
Chanting her heart-song to the night.

“Eala naofa: Tromhad annall!
Mine are the people that open the granary,
Hallow the home-linn and safeguard the eyrie.
Hear when I cry to you; come to me swiftly!
An cuidich sibh mi do comhall?
“Seek a swan without a wife:
Kelwyn mac Boynton, of husbands the best.
When he will once lay his head on my breast,
It’s I will go swim with him, even to death,
Swan to be, beyond this life.”

Swans in Iceland watch their star;
Auger the season by scent of the beach-wrack.
When the wind’s northerly, ice in the grass cracks,
Wheeling they climb away, coasting the sea track.
Keening voices travel far.

II. Grímsvötn
Mountain of ice, beacon of white
Standing alone in the Arctic darkness,
Home to the swans flying, hope to the seafaring,
Niflheim gleams in the morning light.

Up on the glacier the ground is grumbling;
Krinkling cracks spring open quickly.
Blocks of blue ice topple thickly,
Grinding shards from bitter heights.

Swarthy mists in every cranney;
Murky reeks of steam are rising
From a gaping hollow waxing
‘Round a seething tarn uncanny.

Now a groaning geyser opens;
Red flame leaps to heat the oven;
Loki strains; a chain is broken;
Earth’s blood-rush is awoken.

Ashes flying; wind arising;
Thunder; spears of lightning crying:
Hell and Muspell are surprising
To the gothi skiing nearer.

“Othinn! Wise and just Allfather:
Bind the waters whirling blindly;
Tame the streaming torrent! Kindly
Spare your folk; you have no other.”

III. Vestur Grænland
Leif Eiriksson of Vinland now returns
To Eiriksfjord in Vestur Grænland
With wealth of furs and timber. In the stern
He watches fell and glacier running past
To seek the floi where father’s fires burn.
They are alone. The shore is still and vast.
There is a rock to larboard. Fleet and wary,
He calls to tighten sail against the mast,
Then takes the helm, turns to the wind, to tarry,
And still with vision sharp he skries the sky:
There is a wrecked ship upon the skerry.
And all might see, as drifting draws them nigh,
At least a dozen men; one woman’s form:
Norwegians all, if clothing does not lie.
Then up speaks Leifur, with a welcome warm:
“I guess ye’ll deign to sail with us today!
Drag up the wreck to keep it from the storm.
We’ll build another ship in some still bay;
We have the timber and the ship-smith.
But do not hold that ye should fly away;
I find thee kin and kith, and herewith
Bespeak my father’s will, inviting thee
To dwell and winter in our Brattahlith,
The homely house beyond the western sea.”

IV. Drangey
Bishop Guthmunder is rowing,
Muttering banns to bind his temper:
To feed the hungry he must harvest
Eggs and slippery svartifugi
From the cliffs and heaths of Drangey.
So. The men he sends to nest
And harry, taking ropes and timber,
Fall and die. The toll is growing.

He says: “This island is no seemly seat
of elves, but moor of mórar, tangi of trolls,
and geymir of the afturgangumenn.
By vald of Christ I’ll rinse these ills, and then
We may have peace, and end these wraithly tolls,
So godly folk can gain what’s good to eat.”

Strung upon a rope that’s blessed,
Guthmunder climbs cliff and aerie,
Singing psalms and water casting,
Hallowing, for all time lasting.
“Kria!” cry the terns; with fairy
Arrows biting he is pressed.

A mickle hand is stretched to give
A snip, to drop the priest confessing
To his doom. Some wilder-wight
Uncorks his store of words on height:
“Gvendur, Gvendur, stop your blessing!
Even the evil need a place to live!”

Guthmunder climbs down again to shore.
“Here is some uncanny Grettirsson
Or outlaw with his house upon the isle.
How can I cast the stone? I’ll bide awhile.”
He says, and sits him down a time alone.
His hood it hides him like a skin before.

“Here at the worldes end, in this last bay,
We’ll leave a little haven on this rock
For those old souls who spurn eternal life
(except as worthy names in saga strife)
Until Atlantic billows drown this dock
And, like the sea-birds, all are flown away.”