Taking on the task of composing something for The Bridge Singers to perform at our upcoming concerts in Felton, Keswick and Lanercost Priory, I visited Lanercost on several occasions, and while many ideas floated into my head (many of which are still there brewing) the image that I could not shake was of the statue of Elizabeth Dacre Howard amongst all the memorials and tombstones inside the old monastery. She died in 1883 at the age of four months and the statue was made by Sir Edgar Boehm.
I considered several approaches: the death of infants was a common occurrence in Victorian Britain, even amongst the wealthy; Elizabeth’s brothers and sisters went on to be soldiers, politicians, wives of these; her mother and father were influential figures too.
The nagging feeling that I could not shake off was that I wanted to write a lullaby for this and every other child who had died in infancy, and a radio interview I heard at the time told of the experience of bereaved parents listening out for the sounds of the missing child in the silences that used to be filled by that child. And so this became my focus.
Another point to consider for this lullaby was that it was to be a part of an autumn-themed concert, so I have gone for all four seasons passing by, and the sounds of the child being summoned by silent things that happen in each season: the opening of a daffodil; the shimmer of a rainbow; the curling of leaves; the falling of snowflakes.
I have made this video to help The Bridge Singers learn the song, and I hope that in a couple of months’ time I will be able to replace the soundtrack with a recording of them singing it in Lanercost Priory itself.
The year moves on, I see a baby in a pram.
She rushes by, and leaves me silent.
I hear your chuckling in the opening of the daffodil,
And I smile at the thought of you.
The sun is warm, the rain is glistening on the grass.
The families leave me in the silence.
I hear your snuffling in the shimmer of the rainbow,
And I rejoice at the thought of you.
Each healthy glow on a baby’s rosy cheeks
Nips at my heart, renders me silent.
I hear your sighing in the curling of the leaves,
And I weep at the thought of you.
Stony fingers resting gently by her side
I touch her hand, but she is silent.
I hear your whimpering in the falling of the snowflakes
And I tremble at the thought of you.
So I will write a lullaby
And in the silences await your cry,
And as I listen deeply within my memories
In the aching hush, I’ll hum myself to sleep.