No Comment, Quotation — May 17, 2009, 5:00 am

Saint-Amant/Purcell – Solitude


O que j’ayme la solitude!
Que ces lieux sacrez à la nuit,
Esloignez du monde et du bruit,
Plaisent à mon inquietude!
Mon Dieu! que mes yeux sont contens
De voir ces bois, qui se trouverent
A la nativité du temps,
Et que tous les siècles reverent,
Estre encore aussi beaux et vers,
Qu’aux premiers jours de l’univers!

Un gay zephire les caresse
D’un mouvement doux et flatteur.
Rien que leur extresme hauteur
Ne fait remarquer leur vieillesse.
Jadis Pan et ses demi-dieux
Y vinrent chercher du refuge,
Quand Jupiter ouvrit les cieux
Pour nous enoyer le deluge,
Et, se sauvans sur leurs rameaux,
A peine virent-ils les eaux.

Que sur cette espine fleurie
Dont le printemps est amoureux,
Philomele, au chant langoureux,
Entretient bien ma resverie!
Que je prens de plaisir à voir
Ces monts pendans en precipices,
Qui, pour les coups du desespoir,
Sont aux malheureux si propices,
Quand la cruauté de leur sort,
Les force a rechercher la mort!

Que je trouve doux le ravage
De ces fiers torrens vagabonds,
Qui se precipitent par bonds
Dans ce valon vert et sauvage!
Puis, glissant sour les arbrisseaux,
Ainsi que des serpens sur l’herbe,
Se changent en plaisans ruisseaux,
Où quelque Naïade superbe
Regne comme en son lict natal,
Dessus un throsne de christal!

O solitude, my sweetest choice!
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult and from noise,
How ye my restless thoughts delight!
O solitude, my sweetest choice!
O heav’ns! what content is mine
To see these trees, which have appear’d
From the nativity of time,
And which all ages have rever’d,
To look today as fresh and green
As when their beauties first were seen.
O, how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which th’ unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes as only death can cure.
O, how I solitude adore!
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo’s lore,
Without the pains to study it.
For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too,
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing and from serving thee.
O solitude, O how I solitude adore!

–Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant, from La Solitude (1617)(Katherine Philip transl. 1664)

Listen to Henry Purcell’s setting of La Solitude from 1684 (Z. 406), using the translation of his contemporary Katherine Philip, sung here by Susan Gritton on Hyperion’s collection of the Complete Secular Songs (CDS44161/3). This song is composed as a ground, with twenty-eight repetitions of the same ground base. One would think this monotonous, but the effect instead is mesmerizing, and Purcell colors the work beautifully to match the text.

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada



October 2015

Lives by Omission

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Lifting as We Climb

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cattle Calls

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Getting Jobbed

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Residence on Earth·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It would be nice to get through this review without recourse to the term ‘writer’s writer.’ The thing is, in the case of Joy Williams, I have seen the cliché made flesh.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Pakistan in Miniatures·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Miniatures originated in Persia and were brought to the Indian subcontinent when the Mughals conquered it in the sixteenth century. They could take on almost any subject: landscapes or portraits; stories of love, war, or play.”
Painting by by Imran Qureshi.
Cattle Calls·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The business of being a country veterinarian is increasingly precarious. The heartland has been emptying of large-animal vets for at least two decades, as agribusiness changed the employment picture and people left the region.”
Photograph by Lance Rosenfield
Getting Jobbed·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Rosie and her husband had burned through their small savings in the first few months after she lost her job. Now their family of five relied on his minimum-wage paychecks, plus Rosie’s unemployment and food stamps, which, combined, brought them to around $2,000 per month, just above the poverty line.”
Illustrations by Taylor Callery
Lifting as We Climb·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“They never suggested that these circumstances were just; to the contrary, they resented them and abhorred the prejudice and discrimination that littered with dangerous booby traps the pathways trod by their beloved children.”
Photograph © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Percentage change in applications for Virginia concealed-handgun permits in the year of the Virginia Tech shootings:


A Colorado woman was jailed for falsely claiming that her son is a genius.

A Florida man was charged with a felony after allegedly stealing a metal spoon worth $1.12 from a Walmart so that he could eat his Cap’n Crunch.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today