I’ve always admired Robert Graves and have been setting his poetry for over 40 years. But the four sets I’ve made of his work (18 poems in all) have all been collections; this time I wanted to assemble a cycle, which would follow the characteristic pattern of the great classic song cycles in depicting the rise and fall of a love affair. Graves wrote no such cycle, so I’ve had to construct one; it doesn’t present too strong a storyline, but the songs are meant to be sung in a fixed order.
The cycle begins with first acquaintance and increasing intimacy. Then III: Beatrice and Dante and IV: The Garden are attempts to universalise the experience first from the poet’s, and then from the woman’s point of view. The next four songs tell of the exaltations and calms of the height of a love affair. Then, with IX: Horizon, decline and betrayal set in, disguised (or revealed?) by the rhythms of a habanera. X: The Window Sill conjures up a nightmarish dream; XI: A Lost Jewel the beloved is lost to a ‘strange bed’, but still dreams there of the blue jewel of previous happiness. With XII: Hedges Freaked with Snow it is all over.