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In 1879, Caroline Alice Roberts (who went by her middle name), published a lengthy (64 page) poem entitled Isabel Trevithoe under her initials, "C.A.R." Her epic poem, which I confess I have not read in full, is about a man named Gilbert who was charmed as a child by Isabel, who (also a child) sang a beautiful song about snow that captivated him. (Spoiler alert: the final line of the poem/book is "But Gilbert lived and married Isabel" Apparently after having traveled around the world and gotten himself engaged to Lady Norah, who valiantly gives him up to his earlier love.) Isabel's song is below:

O snow, which sinks so light,
Brown earth is hid from sight
O soul, be thou as white as snow,
O snow, which falls so slow,
Dear earth quite warm below;
O heart, so keep thy glow
Beneath the snow.

O snow, in thy soft grave
Sad flow'rs the winter brave;
O heart, so sooth and save, as does the snow.
The snow must melt, must go,
Fast, fast as water flow.
Not thus, my soul, O sow
Thy gifts to fade like snow.

O snow, thou'rt white no more,
Thy sparkling too, is o'er;
O soul, be as before,
Was bright the snow.
Then as the snow all pure,
O heart be, but endure;
Through all the years full sure,
Not as the snow.

Alice came from a well-connected family and was exceedingly accomplished, having studied geology, speaking fluent German, Italian, Spanish, and French, and writing both poems and a novel, Marchcroft Manor. In 1886, she began studying piano accompaniment with Edward Elgar, a local music teacher. In 1889, she married him, despite his being from the tradesman class, younger than her by nine years, and Roman Catholic.

She gave up a lot of her own ambitions in order to support her husband, opining at one point in her diary that "The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman." She dedicated herself to helping her husband, assisting her husband in setting up his composition paper, providing feedback, and serving as his social secretary and business manager, as well as being his wife and the mother of their only child, Carice.

Though she didn't pursue her writing as vigorously as before her marriage, she did, however, maneuver things so that her husband's music got attention from the "right" people, and became Lady Elgar in 1904 once her husband was knighted by King Edward VII of England.

Along the way, in 1895, Edgar Elgar wrote a musical setting of the lovely song written as part of an epic poem by his wife some 16 years earlier, before they met. (Many listings of the song, which has its own fame and is a gorgeous, glorious choral piece for soprano and alto voices accompanied by piano and two violins, refer to Alice as a librettist.)

The words of the poem are evocative and lush, all long vowels (mostly O), with the wonderful ending with hope that the hearer's heart will endure throughout the years, and not melt away like the snow. I should note that this song appears really early in the poem, and pretty much intimates the overall plot (where one falls from grace, but love manages to endure).

Below is a great recording by a youth choir (with piano and violin accompaniment) of the setting, which I had the great good fortune to sing in choirs when I was in high school. With the snow storm coming tonight that may bring us some serious accumulation for the first time this winter, I thought I'd celebrate it and its beauty.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Linda Baie
Jan. 22nd, 2016 03:28 pm (UTC)
I loved hearing the song sung almost more than reading it-beautiful. I imagine I'll be seeing more words about snow today. Hope you'll be warm and "inside". And I like hearing the story of this woman, and that quote "The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman." She at least was forthright! And I loved "Sad flow'rs the winter brave;" - a sweet thought.
Jan. 22nd, 2016 10:46 pm (UTC)
I knew it first as a song, and until my research this week, didn't know its full history. It's a gorgeous piece of music. And I'm a bit in love with Alice now, after reading just a bit about her.
Donna Smith
Jan. 22nd, 2016 04:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing Isabel's poem and the music. It was beautiful to read and to listen to. No snow for us up north today, but I'm sure there will be some more soon!
Jan. 22nd, 2016 10:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful!
We now stand to get 18"-24", and I'm stoked!
TS Davis
Jan. 22nd, 2016 10:57 pm (UTC)
Eerie beauty...
Oh, this song gives me such chills -- only rehearsed it as an adult, never performed, but have heard it many times sung by kids. (At OUR school we always sang Blue Bird or something. Or, once, Clouds. I kid you not -- clouds. But no snow. Californians, I tell you.)
Jan. 25th, 2016 02:07 am (UTC)
Re: Eerie beauty...
I was lucky enough to sing it, possibly twice. It's such a haunting piece.
Carol Varsalona
Jan. 23rd, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
Poetry Friday Blog Post from Kelly Fineman
What a beautiful song with a haunting sound. The back story is intriguing-a beautiful Victorian romance with a poem of love to accompany a fictional journey. Perhaps, you will write a poem to accompany this lovely one about the raging snow that is hitting the northeast.
Jan. 25th, 2016 02:08 am (UTC)
Re: Poetry Friday Blog Post from Kelly Fineman
I really loved the snowstorm - we got about 20"!

Thanks for stopping by!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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