Amergin (2002) (8′)
for SSATB choir
Amergin is a setting of a 1917 translation, found in the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, of an ancient Irish poem. The name “Amergin” refers to the supposed author of the text, a Druid leader who led the party of invading Milesians in the 16th Century, B.C.E. My understanding of the myth of Amergin is far from comfortable, but the poem itself reflects a view of man’s relationship to the natural and the spiritual world that resonates strongly with me. It is almost certain that the 1917 translation is inaccurate in a variety of ways; it seems that a reference to the “House of Tethra” was removed, and there were a number of lines cut off from the end of the poem. What is left, however, is a version of Amergin’s incantation that is more concise, as well as more comprehendable in our own time. The images are familiar, but exotic in the importance that is granted to them. Amergin is both the author of the poem and its subject; Amergin is telling us what he is. The repeated motive “I am the” is the fundamental element of Amergin, repeated throughout most of the piece. At the 13th line, Amergin declares, “I am the god…”, a statement that demands the full attention of the chorus, and the audience, and the composer. What more can one claim to be after that? Amergin is dedicated to the Burris-Wells family: Brad, Betsy, Mae and Wilder.
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am a wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake on the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance in battle,
I am the God who creates in the head of the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?
If not I?