Gwyneth Walker

In Memoriam

for Cello (1980)

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In Memoriam for unaccompanied cello was composed on the occasion of the 1980 memorial service for poet Richard C. Raymond, the composer's uncle. The music was intended to follow the reading of Raymond's poem, "Journey at the Turn of the Year", as a musical reflection upon the sentiments of the poem. However, as a concert work, In Memoriam is often performed without reference to the poem -- interpreted more generally as an elegy.

Journey at the Turn of the Year
by Richard C. Raymond

Always the start of the journey, the going down,
Is easy enough, almost a pleasure, the slope
Deceptively gradual, the trail not hard to follow,
Nothing too difficult for hands or feet
With ordinary breath and skill; the heart
Can manage and feel no strain; the eye delights
In being free to rove the view at will;
And I, despite first fears, am lulled to boldness.

Deceptive, too, the sneak
Ascent of shadows up the valley walls
And always I am many miles far down
Before I am aware, once more, how fast
When skies are singed with frost and midnight creeps
On unsuspecting noon, a timid sun
Can skirt cramped days and drive ahead
All other living things to hideaways
In root and crevice, now denied to me
In darkness on the slippery valley floor,
To fight against myself, then start to climb
A trackless way I flounder vaguely toward
On senseless feet, with hands that fail to hold.
Loose gravel avalanches underfoot,
Shunted shrubs snap off, boulders sway,
And soon I have no breath, but in my lungs
Knife-icicles; and here the heart begins to race,
A pump gone wild that shakes the frame
It's bolted to.

            Each time I know that I
Must go, I make a vow to dodge
The sluggish coils of old despairs and stomp
Their fumblings on the cutting rocks;
But I lack nimbleness enough and they
Entangle me, to ride me dead weight up
An ever steeper slope and under cliffs
Of hanging snow, until the last strength
And tricks expended, I gain an edge of sun
To burn them off my back,
Then roll the orange cinders down
A frightened slope and hear them crash below.

How many seasons must a man go down?
Is there no reprieve?
Each year the sun stays lower in the sky
And fewer flowers linger upon the hills:
No journey for a man beyond his prime,
Past pitted monuments of weaponry,
Among the falling bones of younger men,
Not knowing yet what he is guilty of,
Or if some forebear's crime infects his soul,
Or if it's merely chance of chemistry
Without intelligence or plan--


To probe for purpose where no purposes is,
And have no choice, except to choose to go

Notes by the composer