Christina Rossetti was an English poet of the Victorian era. She and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are considered the greatest female poets of their time. Rossetti’s poetry was also famously set in the popular Christmas songs, In the Bleak Midwinter and Love Came Down at Christmas. We feel fortunate to sing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ stunning setting of Rest (text below).
O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes;
Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth;
Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth
With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs.
She hath no questions, she hath no replies,
Hushed in and curtained with a blessed dearth
Of all that irked her from the hour of birth;
With stillness that is almost Paradise.
Darkness more clear than noon-day holdeth her,
Silence more musical than any song;
Even her very heart has ceased to stir:
Until the morning of Eternity
Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;
And when she wakes she will not think it long.
Rossetti experimented with many poetic forms, and followed the Romantic tradition of meditations on death and loss. Rest follows that tradition, using the Italian Sonnet form (abba abba bcb ddc). Vaughan Williams’ phrasing masterfully follows the speech rhythm and line length of the poetry while adding an emotional undercurrent that cannot be expressed in words. You probably won’t hum this tune as you leave the concert. Instead, you will certain to carry it with you when you leave, in the “silence more musical than song.”
The performance of Rest below is by the King’s Singers.