The Sublime

Had I a cave on some wild distant shore

Where the wind howls to the waves dashing roar

There would I weep my woes

There seek my lost repose

Till grief my eyes should close, ner to wake nae mare (no more).

Second verse of a Burns poem. I can say retrospectively that this verse was how I learned a standard lesson that is passed down in the theatre, ‘speak the verse let the sense take care of itself.’

The reality is you implement the lesson without realizing its working or without really knowing what you are doing.  Doing comes first, understanding you have learned sometime later (considerable later with this one).

In this case the first step was anxiety and conflict. Why did I like the verse?

On the surface it’s intensely melancholic and does not appear to end on an optimistic note. How Burn’s gets to these imaginary shores is also not exactly an exemplary example of human behaviour, a love affair turned sour and very bitter.

What’s appealing about that?  It’s the first two lines, they are a pleasure to speak in Scots. It’s not appealing from the perspective of speaking and performing, to a sense of sadness or loss.

Had I a cave on some wild distant shore

Where the wind howls to the waves dashing roar

Poem seems to be intended for speaking, it also lends itself perfectly to projection getting the inflection and resonance needed is remarkable easy. The rhythm of the waves and the wind, slip in and out of the first lines. It’s a moment of absorption, getting lost, at one. Sublime pleasure rather than sadness.

That unlocks the rest. It’s not a heavy emotional delivery

There would I weep my woes

There seek my lost repose

These lines are measured and detached from emotion.

The trick to emphasise and capture this fluid, altering state, is with the last line.

Speaking like this is far from natural, you can use silence for much longer than is the case in everyday speech.

So at its end

Til greif (high inflection, long pause)

My eyes should close (low inflection, pause)

This allows you to inject a sense other than sadness into the last part, ‘ner to wake nae mare’ that this abandonment may be somewhat wished for and sought and at this moment pleasure and pain are somewhat entangled or indistinguishable from one another.

All sense from this comes from speaking, it alters what appears to lie on the surface.

Its verse at its most fluid and gives you an inflection range and register that can be hit in differing ways depending on the moment. It does not simply alter to a pure sublime note.

Depth comes from its entanglement with other things that lurk within the surface of wind and wave struggling to be free.

The sense comes from the rhythm and sound of the first two lines which absorb you into the wind and wave.

 The rest unfolds from the moment you become absorbed within it.

Simple and natural progression once you catch hold of it.


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