Harold Morland’s Poems and Poetic Letters
This page offers the first publication of the known poems and poetic letters written in homage to Sorabji by Harold Morland (photograph), a long-time friend and dedicatee of four works. All the archival material offered here was given to me in 1999 by the late Robert William Procter, the writer’s literary executor, himself the dedicatee of the Due sutras sul nome dell’amico Alexis (1981, 1984; 2 pp.); publication occurs with his full permission.
Two slashes (“//”) indicate where verses are broken and resume on the next line at a position following that where the previous verse stopped.
Entries in bold indicate that the poem so marked is accompanied by an audio recording in MP3 format by the poet; the link will be found in the section devoted to the poem. All recordings were originally on made cassette tape and were converted to WAV, and from WAV to MP3. Most listeners will want to set the volume at a higher level than normal.
Morland also privately recorded two cassettes consisting of readings from his poetic letters published in 1978. In addition to readings of “Letter Sixteen” from Letters to Martin, “Letter 7” from Letters Roundabout, and “Letter Five” from Leaves and Letters, Morland included the “Postscript” to Letters of Concern (privately printed, 1978), which refers to Saʿdī and the Sīmurgh, though without mentioning Sorabji’s name. Morland also included on the first cassette a reading of his poem On Hearing the “Gulistan”’ of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji and copied the work’s broadcast performance by Yonty Solomon as well as a performance by Ian Brown of Alistair Hinton’s Piano Sonata no. 3 (1978). On the second cassette are English translations by Joseph Tusiani of sonnets by Michelangelo as a prelude to a transcript of the Toronto first performance of Sorabji’s Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.) and of Solomon’s performance of Le jardin parfumé: Poem for Piano Solo (1923; 16 pp.). The poems chosen by Morland are not those set to music by Sorabji. Copies of the cassettes, which Morland recorded on 30 July 1980 (The Harold Morland Poetry Audio Archive, tape no. HM10), were kindly provided by Robert William Procter.
The following text, which dates from early January 1975 at the latest, is an extract from a long poem (which could not be found), at one point intended to form the preface to The Tree of Life, a work in free/blank verse that was not completed, at least as originally intended. It is an edited version from a problematic copy that Sorabji made and sent to Frank Holliday on 17 January 1975.
A few lines from this poem are used on the home page of the Sorabji Resource Site.
If I must praise
Let me be partial to a friend of mine
Concealed as K.
Whose mind’s a thousand miles from Mons Badonius,
Matter on which he is homo sardonicus...
A friend of mine for forty years
And more to come if faith can pray
For selfish comfort in its true desire.
A man whose very spirit is pure fire;
Who on a careful ground can raise cathedrals of majestic sound
With echoing roofs where rich mosaics glow;
Like those wise travellers know
In dark Ravenna, or his forebears knew
In sacred Cefalù.
Who tends in sensuous gardens perfumed flowers
Rich in subtle powers
That take the mind
Or those the curious find
On the margins of a Book of Hours
Or a Persian manuscript entwined
With grace, where a wind’s breath softly blows
And stirs the fragrant Sa’di’s living rose.
Morland wrote the following text immediately after watching the London Weekend Television programme featuring an interview with Sorabji. In the following weeks he incorporated its contents into one of his poetic letters, reproduced below. Sorabji received two typescripts of this text. One is entitled “A Midnight Letter after Hearing a Brief Programme on My Friend Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s Music: Saturday, 11 June 1977”; Sorabji added in ink “Strictly private and confidential. Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji XVII.VI.MCMLXXVII”. The other, identical in wording, bears the title “Impromptu after Hearing a Too-Brief Programme of My Friend Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s Music: 11 June, 1977”. Both are signed by the author at the bottom.
The word “Ahura” (second line), in the Avestan language, refers to a particular class of Zoroastrian divinities.
Source: Harold Morland, “Letter Sixteen” (dated 17 July 1977), in Letters to Martin (privately printed, 1978), 52-55; 52-53 (lines 50-79). The first nine lines do not appear in the typescript that Morland sent to Sorabji. The shorter version is also found in Morland’s diaries, 12 June 1977, with the title “A Letter after Hearing a Too-Brief Programme of My Friend K.S.S.’s Music Saturday 11 June”.
It was an hour for the mind and spirit of Man.
The flame was there //
in the lambency of life
at war with the Devil’s dross,
with the woodlice and their insect-thoughts
scurrying from the sacrificial blaze,
the praise of Being. // And in the temple of sound
the gentle strong simplicity
of Alistair the dear disciple, leaving
a friend whose eyes are clean
to learn the richness of those tapestries,
as the subtle fingers of Yonty Solomon
— a priest of music —
trace in the patterned rare exuberance
God’s gift of plenitude.
For in that clear complexity of fire
is a burning belief and worship
where the kneeling spirit of Man
sings in faith its pure MAGNIFICAT.
The following text is the fuller version of the text reproduced above, entitled A Midnight Letter after Hearing a Brief Programme on My Friend Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s Music: Saturday, 11 June 1977.
Source: Harold Morland, “Letter Sixteen” (dated 17 July 1977), in Letters to Martin (privately printed, 1978), 52-55; 52-53 (lines 50-79).
Audio recording (preceded by an introduction; the passage reproduced below is found between 2:25 and 3:36 out of 6:49).
But Diabolus in Musica.
The name he gives himself
Of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
My friend for almost fifty years;
Whose “equal temperament” is for friends,
And for the rest
A wise and witty irony at most.
I listened in mid-June
To snatches of his music.
It was an hour for the mind and spirit of Man.
The flame was there
In the lambency of life
At war with the Devil’s dross,
With the woodlice and their insect-thoughts
Scurrying from the sacrificial blaze,
The praise of Being.
And in the temple of sound
The gentle strong simplicity
Of Alistair the dear disciple, leaving
A friend whose eyes are clean
To learn the richness of those tapestries,
As the subtle fingers of Yonty Solomon
— A priest of music —
Trace in the patterned rare exuberance
God’s gift of plenitude.
For in that clear complexity of fire
Is a burning belief and worship
Where the kneeling spirit of Man
Sings in faith a pure MAGNIFICAT.
This poetic letter is inscribed “To Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji”. The passages reproduced below refer to Sorabji’s gift of a book of Persian art, provide a characterization of his music, and refer to two Persian writers he loved.
Source: Harold Morland, “Letter Five”, from Leaves and Letters (privately published, 1978), 47-50; 49-50 (lines 80-82, 126-45). Line 145 ends the letter.
Audio recording (preceded by an introduction; the passages reproduced below are found between 4:07 and 4:14 and from 6:27 to the end out of 7:17, with the last word unfortunately clipped).
A year or more ago you gave me a book,
A catalogue of Persian miniatures,
And some of these I saw in Dublin.
A while ago I heard in music
In a long complexity this question-answer,
Fugues like vortices
Sometimes with the round simplicity
Of a drifting flower on the stream,
One whorl on another.
And this, my dear Kaikhosru, was your music.
I’m a fool, I know, in your art’s great complexity;
As also I can’t give you formulae
Nor solve equations
Proving what is, or leading me to great discoveries.
I hear, I see the flow.
I feel the life. // I read a mere translation
Of the great, wise Rumi
Or what may seem the mere delight of Hafiz,
Yet I feel
A holiness in both, the love
Which is the only life.
This poetic letter inscribed “To Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji” mentions Sorabji’s gift of a book of Persian miniatures and refers to the bird featured in the title of one of the composer’s work, Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.).
Source: Harold Morland, “Letter Seven”, from Letters Roundabout (privately printed, 1978), 53-57; 53 (lines 1-10 of 156).
Audio recording (preceded by an introduction; the passage reproduced below is found between 0:12 and 0:42 out of 7:47).
This evening, turning the leaves of a catalogue
You sent me of Persian miniatures
I came across that delicate, iridescent jewel
Of The Simurgh Bearing Prince Zal To Its Nest,
A bird in a soft and sunset-rose
Fringed with spring-leaf green;
And realised that I never finished the tale
From Farid ud-Din Attar
About the pilgrim-birds seeking the Simurgh.
Let me finish it now then.
Morland wrote the following text in the first months of 1980, drawing his inspiration from his listening on 3 June 1979 of Yonty Solomon’s BBC broadcast of “Gulistān” — Nocturne for Piano (1940; 28 pp.). The text reproduced below contains some variants found in a tape recording made by Morland. In a letter of 18 April 1980 to Sorabji, Morland described it as the epigraph of a “longish piece of work on the theme of ’The Tree of Life’”; he expected to need a year to write it, adding that “it will have as its heart that very theme your ’pull-off’ was concerned with”. He also described it as “[r]ather too Shakespearean in style”, especially with regard to language and cadence in diary entries for 24 February, 1 and 2 March 1980. The “pull-off” is probably is reference Saʿdī’s poem La fidélité that Sorabji reproduced in Franz Toussaint’s translation in the manuscript of “Gulistān” — Nocturne for Piano at the time of the work’s rededication to Morland.
Audio recording (preceded by an introduction; the passage reproduced below begins at 1:30 out of 3:16).
This is no garden. But a spirit’s Paradise.
No streams of rippling sound
that play at water, or [no] mere silky subtleties
that flourish for the sense of [to] touch
like petals — when the ears’ enchanted labyrinths
lead only to some substituted [image of an] eye;
but a mind’s intricacies of formal wonder…
Calm as the ground of life
but with life’s exuberance in being.
Oh the streams are there, the flowers
in the varying, flowing shapes of sound
and perfume, but from the soul of these
in praise of all delight.
Once only have I seen not heard its like.
A Persian carpet where all nature was translated [transfigured]
[omitted: far beyond itself,] to its perfection.
A space for some wise man to sit
and teach disciples, quiet for his word.
Or all in silence, listen as the strings
pluck from a passing phoenix-breast
a plume of dancing fire.
Yet still a carpet where men kneel
for prayer and praise.
But here the carpet is transcended.
This is [in] three-dimensioned [three-dimensional] sound
of praise and joy
is music’s SURSUM CORDA.
Here is Paradise.
The following haiku is taken from an unpublished manuscript of 1980.
Source: Harold Morland, “Straws in the Wind” (unpublished, dated April 1980), 16 (item no. 72).
Kaikhosru my friend,
I light this candle for you.
Ahura lit yours.
In this haiku written in 1990 Morland described Sorabji’s playing, most probably a passage from one of his more expansive works.
Source: Harold Morland, excerpt from A Scatter of Seed (St. Annes-on-Sea: The Cudworth Press, 1991), 14.
his own music was often
an angry tiger
ensnared in cobwebs.
Morland wrote the following short obituary poem in memory of his departed friend on an undated sheet received by Alistair Hinton on 28 September 1990.
Source: Harold Morland, “In memoriam K.S.S.”, in The Moving Finger (St. Annes-on-Sea: The Cudworth Press, 1991), 26.
Your being was pure fibres — taut
and intricate not for a mind
to delight in but the spirit;
subtle to touch into being again
that music which beyond mere human thought
And all this
from your fingers devoutly praying.
I have heard you in your private room
making the air not this I breathe
but patterned with a worship.....
And I’ve wondered,
silently as I departed,
Aye, to what divinity?
Source: Harold Morland, “Hearing Sorabji”, in Before the Fire of Life (St. Annes-on-Sea: The Cudworth Press, 1992), 14.
I move toward the shadows
where your spirit has a shape
the ticks of time make tremble
into a seeming life. // And yet
this darkness is your soul
with a thundering spirit
alive among the trees, making nature
dance and shiver into life
with all the complexities of mere feet
on the floor of the eternal.
Yet your music
at the feet of divine silence.
In 1996 Morland found inspiration for a poem in his recollection of listening to Sorabji playing “Gulistān” — Nocturne for Piano (1940; 28 pp.), obviously several years earlier. Because of the work’s nature, the composer’s playing was quite different from the one described in the haiku quoted earlier.
Source: Harold Morland, “Gulistan, by Kaikhosru Sorabji”, in Figures of Speech (St. Annes-on-Sea: The Cudworth Press, 1996), 94.
I was hearing the Gulistan, not listening
with the quiet intensity of a lover
for whom every sound shapes a step
into some great cathedral. I was more like a man
curious about the mosaics of the forecourt
with their subtle twists,
those wild florescences that finally
become a pattern out a nature.....
And yet I was listening to music
and hearing Sorabji as I wandered in the Gulistan.
I watched his face as he played, impassive,
only his fingers feeling the exuberance
they subtly controlled.....For the music spoke
phrases like the utterance, not a mind,
a human mind, but a spirit that breathes from the earth
delicate lilies, roses with a flare
of the captivating scent that is the breath of music.
.....And then the cool wind of silence.
Yet my mind was fertile still, waiting
even as my human thoughts blundered along.
The echoes re-minding me.
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