In The Wilderness (op. 41, no. 3)


This is the third song in Samuel Barber’s cycle Despite and Still, Op. 41. Robert Graves’s poem, written in 1915, deals with the suffering of Jesus. The opening of “In the Wilderness” is reminiscent of a lullaby, but the middle section is harsh, featuring an aggressive accompaniment containing open fifths pitted against a melodic line containing tritones. The lullaby motive returns at the song’s conclusion, as a release from the dissonance.

In The Wilderness
by Robert Graves

He, of his gentleness,
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the Wilderness;
Soft words of grace he spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listned wondering.
He heard the bittern call
From ruined palace-wall,
Answered him brotherly;
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety.
Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed stings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great bats on leathern wings
And old, blind, broken things
Mean in their miseries.
Then ever with him went,
Of all his wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs -- poor innocent --
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless young scapegoat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behind him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.

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