Today’s show is a tribute to the somewhat forgotten California poet, George Sterling, who lived from 1869 to 1926. The show is devoted to only one of Sterling’s poems, the extended verse narrative, “Duandon,” written about 1910. “Duandon” will be performed by Donald Sidney-Fryer, who will accompany himself on the modern bass lute or chitarrone. Sidney-Fryer emphasizes that this is a modern instrument, not a copy of an ancient one. “What I am about to attempt,” Sidney-Fryer writes, “nobody has actually done since the very late Middle Ages or the earliest Renaissance, that is, for about 500 years.”
Donald Sidney-Fryer connects George Sterling’s poem to the chansons de geste, “or songs of war and heroic deeds; these represented the medieval form of the epic.” Itinerant minstrels or jongleurs “accompanied or punctuated their narratives in verse by playing at least one of several instruments…The recital of such long story poems could last anywhere from half an hour or an hour to most of an evening, or even an extended series of evenings…[T]he performer…focused on the story being told…The music…existed only to support the poetry.” The little melodic pieces that Sidney-Fryer plays are based on authentic medieval melodies. “Duandon,” Sidney-Fryer remarks, “returns us directly to the style of narrative and above all else to the sense of wonder and marvel so characteristic of the Middle Ages and the metrical romances.” The poem opens,
Duandon, king of Aetna’s farthest bound
And lord of isles the sea is loud around,
Beheld the crimson fountains of the dawn
Bear up the lark, a foam of song, till drawn
Thither he fared, expectant and alone.
Thither he fared, fresh from the sea of sleep,
And all the balmy land was blossomed deep,
Nor could one wander save on helpless flow’rs,
Where Summer made a garland of the hours
And bound it on the dew-dipt brow of Morn,
Bent low above the meadow’s blossom-bourn.
But past all peace of bowers rang the call
And invocation of the billows’ fall,
And, clean from kingdoms of the sapphire vast,
After he saw the eddying petrel sweep
O’er reefs where hoarser roared the thwarted deep,
And soon before his eyes, exultant, fain,
Heavy with azure gleamed the investing main,
And quick with pulsings of a distant storm,
Strong as that music floating Troy to form.
Splendid the everlasting ocean shone
As God’s blue robe upon a desert thrown;
Landward he saw the sea-born breakers fare,
Young as a wind and ancient as the air;
August he saw the unending ranks uproll,
With joy and wonder mastering the soul,
With marvel on tile hearing and the sight—
Green fires, and billows tremulous with light,
With shaken soul of light and shuddering blaze
Of leaping emerald and cold chrysoprase,—
The surge and suspiration of the sea.
Great waters choral of eternity,—
The mighty, dirge that will not cease for day
Nor all the stars’ invincible array,—
The thunder that has set, since Time began,
Its sorrow in the lonely heart of man.