The Unbeliever


"The Unbeliever" is the second song of David Leisner's song cycle To Sleep, which sets the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.


The audio selection in the player to the right features Robert Osborne, baritone, and Susan Almasi, piano. The recording is from a live performance in New York, 1995. Used with the permission of the composer. To listen, please click on the track name itself.

The Unbeliever
by Elizabeth Bishop

He sleeps on the top of a mast.--Bunyan

HE sleeps on the top of a mast
with his eyes fast closed.
The sails fall away below him
like the sheets of his bed,
leaving out in the air of the night the sleeper's head.

Asleep he was transported there,
asleep he curled
in a gilded ball on the mast's top,
or climbed inside
a gilded bird, or blindly seated himself astride.

"I am founded on marble pillars,"
said a cloud. "I never move.
See the pillars there in the sea?"
Secure in introspection
he peers at the watery pillars of his reflection.

A gull had wings under his
and remarked that the air
was "like marble." He said: "Up here
I tower through the sky
for the marble wings on my tower-top fly."

But he sleeps on the top of his mast
with his eyes closed tight.
The gull inquired into his dream,
which was, "I must not fall.
The spangled sea below wants me to fall.
It is hard as diamonds; it wants to destroy us all."

Audio PLaylist