Francis Thorne: La Luce Eterna


Rhapsodic Variations No. 7 / Nature Studies / La luce eterna (eternal light)


Rhapsodic Variations, No. 7

(Track 1) was written especially for Michael Boriskin and first performed by him at the Aaron Copland House in Westchester County in the spring of 2000. Written to take advantage of Mr. Boriskin's extraordinary versatility and deep feelings for the expansive aspects of music, the form is in the tradition of classical variations-on-a-theme.

The duration of the work is about seventeen minutes, played without pause. A short opening leads into a stated theme, followed by eleven variations, culminating in a quiet coda.

Nature Studies

Was written for, and dedicated to, The Jubal Trio. It was composed mostly at the MacDowell Colony in 1981, where I had originally met the poet Howard Moss in 1968. The three poems are included in a volume Mr. Moss gave to me called “Finding Them Lost.”

Going to Sleep in the Country (Track 2) represents about half the length of the cycle and is mainly lyrical. The Cricket (Track 3) is like a little scherzo movement and lasts only two minutes. Looking Up (Track 4) is lyrical with a slightly spiritual tinge. I was moved to set this lovely poetry in the most direct and expressive way possible, especially in the pastoral New Hampshire setting of the Colony.

Going to Sleep in the Country

The terraces rise and fall

As the light strides up and rides over

The hill I see from my window.

The spring in the dogwood now,

Enlarging its small preconceptions,

Puts itself away for the night.

The mountains do nothing but sit,

Waiting for something to happen -

Perhaps for the sky to open.

In the distance, a waterfall,

More sound than the vision from here,

Is weighing itself again.

A sound you can hardly hear.

The birds of the day disappear,

As if the darkness were final.

The harder it is to see,

The louder the waterfall.

And then the whippoorwill

Begins its tireless, cool,

Calm, and precise lament -

Again and again and again -

Its love replying in kind,

Or blindly sung to itself,

Waiting for something to happen.

In that rain-prickle of song,

The waterfall stays its sound,

Diminishing like a gong

Struck by the weakening hand

Of a walker walking away,

Who is farther away each time,

Until it is finally dumb.

Each star, at a different depth,

Shines down. The moon shines down.

The night comes into its own,

Waiting for nothing to happen.

© 1971 by Howard Moss. Used with permission of Atheneum Publishers.

The Cricket

There was a day when

Swifter the world turned,

Matting the Queen Anne's

Lace on the hill, and

The fern and its thin root

Lifted a long beard

Like a haired carrot

Unwinding. The wind heard

The sound of a cricket,

A castenet-quick-catch,

And, as the sun set,

Quickly my wrist watch

Spun both its hands round,

Fine as the fern root,

And the that light sound

I tapped my light foot.

I ran down a hillside

Steep as a staircase;

Flailing my arms, I

Entered a spring house;

Black door and windows

Closed vast shadows

Up on the ceiling.

Again and again, when

The cricket chirped off in

The wood, I lay down in

My spinning coffin.

Suddenly night ran

Under my eyelid.

The cricket sang tin,

And I pulled down the lid.

© 1965 by Howard Moss. Used with permission of the author.

Looking Up

Shall we now talk of the stars?

They are plentiful, God knows,

As if sprayed by a fire hose

Upward - the aperture

Widening till the shine

Of stars takes up the sky

From horizon to horizon.

here is tonight immense


Working upon the sky,

And who knows from what lens

God looks out with his eye

Cocked to a needlepoint,

Or maybe a thousand eyes,

Each a vibrating squint?

One fades out, one comes on,

A flashing failing. One

Is falling suddenly down

Unbelievably from the sky

So fast the eye cannot follow...

Too late, you have missed it now.

When the dark is this intense,

We see stars all at once,

That is, the ones we see;

But daylight soon will douse

Those comfortless, cold fires

That never can make us warm.

Come in, come in to the house,

To the fires that are not stars.

La luce eterna

(Tracks 5-7) In New York, in 1977, I felt that my music was being corrupted by the 12-tone mafia, and so I returned to Florence, where I had studied with David Diamond, to try and recapture my true musical self. After sitting and looking at blank paper for several weeks, I began to read sections of Dante to improve my Italian. I was enough moved by the final 39 lines of Paradiso to set them to music for high voice and orchestra, in Italian.

These final lines describe the vision of the eternal light that radiates from heaven. For reasons of musical contrast, I took a few lines in the middle of my chosen text to make a short fast section with the two slow segments on either side. The work brought me back to tonality and long lyric lines.

The words are set as they appear on paper except for the repetition of the word “amor” (i.e., “love”) at the work's end. My friend Ned Rorem gently chastized me for not setting an English translation. Oh well, we do what we must. The work has a duration of 21 minutes and had its premiere with the Julliard Orchestra in 1979, Jose Serebrier conducting, and with Carole Farley as soprano soloist.

La luce eterna (The Eternal Light)


O Light Supreme, that art so far exalted

Above our mortal ken! Lend to my mind

A little part of what thou didst appear,

And grant sufficient power unto my tongue

That it may leave for races yet unborn,

A single spark of Thy almighty flame!

For it Thou wilt come back to my remembrance,

Than I may sing Thy glory in these lines,

The more Thy victory will be explained.

I think the keeness of the living ray

That I withstood would have bewildered me,

If once my eyes had turned aside from it.

And I recall that for that very reason

I was emboldened to endure so much,

Until my gaze was joined unto His good.

Abundant grace, by which I could presume

To fix my eyes upon the Eternal Light

Sufficiently to see the whole of it!

I saw that in its depths there are enclosed,

Bound up with love in one eternal book,

The scattered leaves of all the universe -

Substance, and accidents, and their relations,

As though together fused in such a way

That what I speak of is a single light.

The universe form of this commingling

I think I saw, for when I tell of it

I feel that I rejoice so much the more.

One moment brought me more oblivion

Than five-and-twenty centuries could case

Upon those Argonauts whose shadow once

Made Neptune wonder. Even thus my mind,

Enrapture, gazed attentive, motionless,

And grew the more enkindled as it gazed.

For in the presence of those radiant beams

One is so changed, that `tis impossible

To turn from it to any other sight -

Because the good, the object of the will,

Is all collected there. Outside of it that is defective which is perfect there.


Henceforth my speech will fall still further short

Of what I recollect, as `twere a babe's,

Wetting his tongue upon his mother's breast.

There was no other than a single semblance

Within that Living Light on which I gaze,

For that remains forever what it was;

And yet by reason of my vision's power,

Which waxed the stronger in me as I looked,

That semblance seemed to change, and I as well.

For within the substance, deep and radiant,

Of that Exalted Light, I saw three rings

Of one dimension, yet of triple hue.

One seemed to be reflected by the next,

As Iris is by Iris; and the third

Seemed fire, shed forth equally by both.

How powerless is speech - how weak, compared

To my conception, which itself is trifling

Beside the mighty vision that I saw!


O Light Eternal, in Thyself contained!

Thou only know'st Thyself, and in Thyself

Both known and knowing, smilest on Thyself!

That very circle which appeared in Thee,

Conceived as but a reflection of a light,

When gazed on it awhile, now seemed

To bear the image of a human face

Within itself, of its own coloring -

Wherefore my sight was wholly fixed on it.

Like a geometer, who will attempt

With all his power and mind to square the circle,

Yet cannot find the principle he needs:

Just so was I, at that phenomenon.

I wished to see how image joined to ring,

And how the one found place within the other.

Too feeble for such flights were my own wings;

But by a lightning flash my mind was struck -

And thus came the fulfillment of my wish.

My power now failed that fantasy sublime:

My will and my desire were both revolved,

As is a wheel in even motion driven,

By Love, which moves the sun and other stars.

Rhapsodic Variations recorded Town Hall, New York, 3/01. David Smith, engineer

Nature Studies recorded New York, 2/82. Tom Lazarus, engineer. Digital mastering, Adrian Carr Music Designs Mastering, 1/01.

La luce eterna recorded Manhattan School, New York, 4/99. Louis Brown, engineer.