Saint-Amant/Purcell – Solitude | Harper's Magazine

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Saint-Amant/Purcell – Solitude

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mignard-clio

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.

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