Poem by Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)

From “The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley” 1951


 This is the day which the Lord hath made

Shining like Eden, absolved from sin,

Three parts glitter to one part shade:

Let us be glad and rejoice therein.


Everything’s scoured brighter than metal,

Everything sparkles as pure as glass:

The leaf on the poplar, the zinia’s petal,

The wing of the bird and the blade of the grass.


All, all is luster. The glossy harbor

Dazzles the gulls that gleaming fly.

Glimmer the wasp on the grape in the arbor,

Glisten the clouds in the polished sky.

Tonight - tomorrow the leaf will fade,


The waters tarnish the dark begin.

But This is the day which the Lord hath made:

Let us be glad and rejoice therein.



Poem by Lily Nussbaum

(written when the lyricist was 12 years old)


I settle on my pillow

and listen to the willow creek


as I do every night

but tonight I hear no willow

Nor the cricket symphony

That sings me to sleep.

I hear no sound

not the birds

the sighing wind

my father snoring


I suddenly see a light


a brilliant light

of stretching color

I remember the date

The end of summer

beginning of fall

The changing seasons happen overnight

I whisper

Into the light.


In a flash

There is no light.

The black of night

Has reappeared.

The quiet lingers

Though seasons passed

And now I fall asleep

At last.




Ruth Whitman (1922–1999) was an American poet, translator, and professor at Radcliffe. A friend of Spektor, Whitman asked her to set these poems to music, as well as her libretto “The Passion of Lizzie Borden,” a 15-minute murder-mystery opera.




Sleep little daughter, I’ll plant you a tree

Even as grandmother planted for me,

One tiny sapling more for the hill

Where two little cousins are flourishing still


Sleep, sleep, dream of the sea,

Your cradle’s a caique, your tree, your tree

Will be a mast to take you from me

Grown for the boy who fells you free.


Sleep, sleep, the tree is yet small

An infant tree, not three years tall,

It mocks its sisters, flutters its boughs,

Hush, hush, it rains, it snows,


Summer suns lengthen your hair,

You grow tall, you move with care,

And from the sea bright blue and white,

A sailor whistles in the night.


But sleep, sleep, not yet, not yet

The hull is carved, the mast is set

Sleep one more night in Arcady,

My little girl, my cypress tree.




A flaming phoenix came to rest

Beside my tiny nursling’s nest




He snapped his wings of fire and cried

The world is full of claws outside,

And tall,

And wide,


The sky is turning golden red

And I have come with flames outspread

And Hallelujah in my head

To toss you from your easy bed

To toss you from your bed.




When sleep kaleidoscopes and every tree

Rings out before a cannonball of sun

Sharp music shatters for the birds to sing,

Breaking their bits of glass upon the street,

Green glass, mean clatter, lover’s mourning bells.


Your kiss invented me, but I forget,

So constellate my sky with stars again:

Planets burn brief beside our tides of blood.




I keep my clocks a little fast

So time won’t take me by surprise.


Lest crows tread harshly round my eyes

I keep my clocks a little fast.


I push ahead the hands of past

Before the future tints my hair


I race the hours through the air

So time won’t take me by surprise


Before the spider bygone dries

I cobble cobwebs on my last.


I keep my clocks a little fast

So time won’t take me by surprise.



World Premiere. Poem by Yip Harburg (1896-1981), the famous American lyricist of plays and films including The Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow.


My heart is like the willow

That bends, but never breaks.

It sighs when summer jilts her,

It sings when April wakes.


So you, who come a-smiling

With summer in your eyes,

Think not that your beguiling

Will take me by surprise.


My heart’s prepared for aching

The moment you take wing.

But not, my friend, for breaking

While there’s another spring.



Lyrics by Unknown

(for Cantor Debra Stein)


Let us sing the soul in every name

And the name in every soul

Let us sing the soul in every name

And the sacred name in every soul

As we bless the source of life

So are we blessed.





Poem by Rutebeuf

(13th Century, during the Crusades)


Que sont mes amis devenus

Que j’avais de si prés tenus

Et tant aimés? Et tant aimes...

Je croix gu’il sont trop clairsemés,

Il ne furent pas bien semés,

 Et sont faillis.

De tel amis m’ont mal bailli,

Et des que Dieu m’eut assailli

 En maint coté,

N’en vis un seul en mon hoté

Le vent je croix les a oté,

L’amour est morte, l’amour est morte:

Ce sont amis que vent emporte,

Et il ventait devans ma porte,

 Aussi les emporta ...


Que sont mes amis devenus

Que j’avais de si pres tenus

Et tant aimés? Et tant aimés...

Je suis comme l’oisiére franche

Ou comme l’oiseau sur la branche

 En été chante

En hiver pleure et me lamante

Et me defeuille ainsi que l’ente

 Au premier gel

Avec le temps qu’arbre defeuille

Quand il ne reste en branche feuille

Qui n’aille á terre,

Au temps d’hivers

Le mal ne sait pas seul venir

Tour ce qui m’était a venir

 Aussi m’est advenu

Que sont mes amis devenus

Que j’avais de si prés tenus

Et tant aimés, et tant aimés...


English Translation by Mira J. Spektor:



What has become of my friends

The ones I held close to me

 And loved so much? And loved so much...

I think they are too sparse,

They were not well sown

 And have faded.

Those friends did not bail me out,

For when God assailed me

 From many sides,

I did not see one at my side.

The wind, I think, took them away,

 Love is dead.

The wind takes such friends, And wind, blowing past my door,

 Also carried them away...


What has become of my friends

The ones I held so close to me

And loved so much? And loved so much...

I am like an open bird cage,

Or like the bird on a branch:

 In summer I sing,

In winter cry and lament

And lose my leaves at the first frost.

In the time when trees become bare,

 With the first frost,

There is not one leaf left on a tree

That did not fall to earth in winter time.

Pain does not come alone

All that will befall me

 Also happened

What has become of my friends

The ones I held so close to me

And loved so much? And loved so much...



Poem by Anna, Comtesse de Noaille

(1876-1933; she was a Mistress of Verlaine)


Mon Dieu, je ne puis pas dire combien est fort

Mon coeur de ce matin devant le soleil d’or,

Devant tout ce qui brille et scintille dehors.


Faudra-t-il que jamais je n’épuise ma joie

De cette eau qui reluit, de cet air que me noie,

De tout ce qui du temps en mon ame poudroie!

Viendront-elles un jour, en quelque paradis,

Ces collines pour qui j’ai tant fait et tant dit,

M’apporter la chaleur du parfum du midi?


Aurai-je des maisons aux toits de tuiles roses,

Avec un ciel autour, qui glisse et se repose

sur les jardins, sur les chemins, sur toutes choses...


Et verrai-je un village heureux, avec sa foule

Des dimanches flanant, et ses ruisseaux qui coulent

Pres des enclose plantes de chanvre et de ciboules


Pourai-je en respirant gouter l’odeur de temps,

et me faire le coeur si tendre et si cedant,

Que les oiseaux de l’air viendont loger dedans?


- O petite, divine, auguste et grande terre,

Place des jeux, place des jours et du mistere,


Pourquoi faut-il que moi, je n’aie jamais cela,

Ce bon apaisement du corps content et las,

Et que toujours mon coeur vers vous vole

en eclats...


English Translation by Mira J. Spektor:



My God, I cannot tell how strong

my heart is, this morning before the golden sun,

before all that shines and sparkles outside.


May I never have to exhaust my joy

for this water that gleams, this air that drowns me,

for all that, with time, in my soul becomes dust.


Will they come one day, in some paradise,

those hills, for which I did and spoke so much,

to bring me the heat of midday’s perfume?


Will I have houses, with roofs of rose tiles,

surrounded by a sky, that slides and rests

on the gardens, on the roads, on everything...


And will I see a happy village, with its Sunday

crowds strolling, and its happy streams running

near enclosures planted with hemp and chives.


Could I, while breathing, taste the odor of time,

and make my heart so tender and compliant,

that airborne birds will come to lodge in it?


- O small divine, august and large world

place of games, place of days and of mystery -


Why is it that I may never have this,

the good quietude of body, content and tired,

and that always my heart wildy flies to you...



French lyrics and translations by Mira J. Spektor (Written during a snowstorm in St Moritz, Switzerland)


Il neige dans mon coeur

Il fait froid, le bonheur

Se glace, je grelotte sans raison


Dehors est le soleil,

le Printemps qui s’eveille

Mais mon coeur ignora les saisons:

C’est parce que tu n’es pas la

C’est parce que tu n’es pas la

Seule sans toi il fait froid

Il fait si froid, sans toi.

Mais quand tu reviendras,

Je ne serais qu’a toi

Mon coeur s’épanouiras de chaleur


Dehors ca peut neiger

Le vent peut bien hurler

Mais nous sentirons que le bonheur

C’est parce que je suis a toi

C’est parce que je suis a toi

Il fait bon dans tes bras

Je veux rester dans tes bras





It’s snowing in my heart

It’s cold, happiness

freezes, I’m shaking without reason


Outside is the sun,

Spring wakes up

But my heart ignores the seasons

That’s because you’re away

That’s because you are away

Alone, without you I’m cold

I’m so cold without you.

But when you’ll come back

I’ll be yours alone

My heart will bloom with heat


Outside it can snow

The wind may howl

But we will only feel joy

That’s because I’m yours

That’s because I am yours

It feels good in your arms

I want to stay in your arms



Voice with Cello by Mira J. Spektor

(End Credit song for the film DOUBLE EDGE with Faye Dunaway)



A poem by Diane Ackerman from her collection: I Praise My Destroyer. Ackerman is well-known for work such as the novel and film The Zookeeper’ Wife.


Some would marry winter

when the plainsong of the trees

fills the woods

with a stark simple melody

of land and light,

the vintner fall has faded

to old sobriety,

and pious winds intone

the grace notes of infinity.


I prefer the summer vows

of bluejay and raccoon,

the fidget of bugs

while May half swoons

flamboyantly into the arms of June,

the pretty pandemonium

of skitter and bloom,

and even warthogs making love

under a fat August moon.




Poem by William Dickey (1928-1994)


     On the white road

in dust of summer

someone’s arriving


     apricots bend

from the wall garden

     welcoming summer


     someone’s arriving

clothed only in light

     his hands empty


his eyes full of islands

     stroked by blue ocean

     in the summer air


violent and singing

     on the empty road

someone’s arriving


      the white light

cherishing his step

and his naked stare.


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