The Goddess in the Wood

for tenor and piano

Susannah Self

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for tenor and piano

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Composer Susannah Self
Year of Composition 2013
Duration 7'30"



Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-ss1tgitw1


This extended song feels like a mini-scena of connecting episodes that culminate in an erotic catharsis. Rupert Brooke’s sonnet is so highly evocative and evasive that I felt perhaps the complex feeling buried in it could be brought out in layers through music. Understanding the overall meaning of the sonnet raises many unanswerable questions and it is particularly this element that drew me to the work. The Goddess is conversely “life giving” and “life taking”. Compositionally I seek to weave material that explores this paradox.

Rupert Brooke is one of the six members of “The Dymock Poets” who met in the village of Dymock near Malvern before the 1st World War. The other members are: Robert Frost, Lascelles Abercrombie, John Drinkwater, Wilfrid Gibson and Edward Thomas. Brooke is buried on the beautiful Greek Island of Skyros and it is here that I imagine he embraces “The Goddess in The Wood”. His simple grave is in an olive grove overlooking the glistening Aegean sea. When Brooke was a young man he said when at Cambridge that he hoped he would die on a Greek island. He got his wish by a curious twist of misfortune. When en route to battle in Gallipoli he was bitten on the lip by a mosquito. He subsequently died of septicaemia and the ship he was on was sailing near Skyros. With great solemnity and love from his colleagues he was buried on the island. By another twist of fate, I work yearly on the island of Skyros, so the sonnet’s mystical prophetic mood is especially keenly felt when I visit Brooke’s olive grove. In spring the river swells and lush pink oleanders flower in a profusion that perfectly evokes the Lady Venus’s flowered dell.

Listen to James Gilchrist sing The Goddess in The Wood.