From English Idyll to Living Hell: a WW1 poem by Rachel Cochrane set to music

Written by Rachel Cochrane, read by Tom Raine with music by Rosie Cochrane

See words below

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A poem set to music, inspired by the death of English pastoral composer George Butterworth, an Officer of the 13th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, who died in the battle of the Somme 5th August 1916.  The catalyst for the poem was the discovery of a  photograph of Butterworth and his fellow officers in the Battalion in the Durham Record Office Archives  (see below). This recording formed part of Rachel’s multimedia exhibit for the collaborative exhibition ‘The Somme: Remembrance and Expression’ at Pod Gallery, Bishop Auckland curated by Daisy Arts.

George Butterworth was composer of such noted pieces as The Banks of Green Willow and set A.E.Houseman’s series of verses The Shropshire Lad to music. These tunes provided inspiration in writing both the poem and the accompanying music.  The Banks of the Green Willow becomes distorted to reflect the state of Butterworth’s mind in the trenches. The line, ‘The lads in their hundreds’, is echoed in the verse (see words below). Before setting off to war, Butterworth burnt his unfinished compositions.

From English Idyll to Living Hell – words

You took up your pencil

To hang your notes

Upon the wires

As crows perch to prophesy

A death knell

From English Idyll to living hell

You left unfinished songs

An ember in the grate

Took up club and bayonet

Alongside rough hewn mining men

They dug you a trench

Named it in your honour

You wrote to their wives and mothers

The Durham Lads in their hundreds

That will never grow old

Head above the parapet

And as you fall

In Munster Alley

A final refrain

Your fingers twitch

Upon the mud

To play it out

In silence

Officers 13th Btn DLI with George Butterworth circled

Officers 13th Btn DLI March 1915 (George Butterworth circled) Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the former DLI and Durham County Record Office DRO D/DLI 7/75/26