Partners: Performances

Noctambule: "If I Could Tell You"

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Noctambule is Bruce Victor and Marla Fibish, and in this video they perform "If I Could Tell You," a poem by W.H. Auden that they put to music.

by Noctambule
April 24, 2015

"If I Could Tell You" was written by W.H. Auden in 1940. Our overly brief and simplistic exegesis is that it is a lyrical throwing up of the hands in the face of the uncertainty of the future – and the seeming unwillingness of "time" to reveal anything about it. Probably pretty topical given that World War II had started some months before its creation.

However, what really got us to this poem was the fact that it was a villanelle – a poetic form which, according to Wikipedia is:

"A nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines."

In this case, the two refrains are “If I could tell you, I would let you know” and “Time will say nothing but I told you so.”

Apparently, the term derives from the word villanella, referring to a rustic song or dance (see, villano means "farmhand" and...alright, we'll stop here).

As it happens, we got interested in villanelles because we landed a gig at Book Passage, a very large book store in Marin County where we thought we would be expected to expound upon our “process” of how we put poetry to music, and in general sound at least moderately intelligent about poetry in general. So we busily set about researching the poems we were going to perform that night. We discovered that “The Waking,” by Theodore Roethke, was a villanelle, and in the process of better understanding what that meant, we stumbled upon others, including Auden’s “If I Could Tell You,“ and Sylvia Plath’s "Mad Girl's Love Song.” All of these will be included on our upcoming album, which we expect to release early this summer.

It seems we have a subspecialty.

We hope you enjoy it.

Bruce and Marla

Tags: Guitar, Folk
Category: Peghead Partners

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