That Will Not Save (2018)
TTBB & Piano
Text by A. E. Housman
Total duration ca. 3'15"
Single movement work
Purchase this score from
Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1.00 per copy
While nationalism, tribalist patriotism, and military enthusiasm were potent forces in the nineteen-teens and twenties, British poet A. E. Housman was writing epigrammatic and melancholy poems about the cut-short lives of soldiers, about youth that descends into death, about unrequited or unspoken love, about swords that will not save. This poem, the second from Housman’s collection “Last Poems,” speaks from the point of view of a soldier preparing for war, thinking about the others who have taken part in war, both enemies and friends. The soldier thinks of these things with the cold comfort of girding himself with a weapon, a tool designed for killing. The poem simultaneously evokes the atavism and romanticism of war: thinking “on old ill fortunes / Of better men than I” is supposed to “make him brave,” even as he laments the fallen soldiers whose lives he will never know, or for whom he should not mourn because of the arbitrary lines that divide one side from another, as it seemed to those most disillusioned by the Great War. Like the poem, my musical setting is not optimistic. It aspires to air out the sadness and grief that is tightly coiled within the late Victorian rhyming quatrains of this short, lamenting poem.
Text, poem no. 2 “As I gird on for fighting…” by A. E. Housman from “Last Poems,” published in 1922. This poem is in the public domain.