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We have a very special project coming up - we want people to write poems about war that will have opera arias or classical songs playing behind them at a special online event. The subject can be a particular conflict, thoughts on war, about refugees or environmental damage caused by war - there's no limit to how far you can range so long as it's connected to war.

The poem should be a poetic response to the aria in the same way that ekphrastic poetry responds to art - not a description of what's in it but jumping off from it, using it in some way.

The idea sprang from two things. One was my own poem for our anti-nuclear project, Nagasaki 2020, which came from the realisation that Madame Butterfly, the heroine of Puccini's eponymous opera, came from Nagasaki. The opera was written in 1904, so prefigured the atomic bomb by over forty years. I read the poem at our event for the project with a recording of Un Bel Di Vedremo playing behind it. You can view that reading on our youtube channel, at about 24. minutes 10 seconds in.

Shortly after that I was watching a concert by Sonya Yoncheva, during which she sang an exquisite version of Dido's lament by Purcell, When I Am Laid in Earth. That reminded me of Dido at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (Iceland) a beautiful poem written by Dove Tales member, Stephanie Green. The poem is below. Read it with a great recording of the aria playing behind it:


Dido at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall  (Iceland)  


Doused with spray, horizontal rainbows

at her feet, she climbs behind

the thundering falls, a muslin curtain


shuddering in the breeze through half-open shutters

of a white room,  white sheets

thrown off in the heat and sweat of the afternoons


trusting what he swore in the half-light

to be true to her, only to her

as they ignore the world outside.


The roar of the waterfall becomes the flames

of burning cities, red skies,

plumes of smoke, charred beams;


prisoners who are never seen again,

dark stains on the dusty roads,

her face wet with tears.


The waterfall flickers with light unspooling,

her hair which he liked to let loose,

silver now.

                                Remember me.


Even now, after so many years,

the urge to throw herself

into the falls, so cold, they’d burn.

Jessye Norman's performance is on:

Janet Baker is on:

We will be holding an online event some time in the autumn.

Some pieces have already been booked so you will have to choose another: Bellini's Casta Diva, Schubert's Die Nebensonne, Magda's lament from Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, Chopin's Etude No 3, Op10, Sovente il sole by Vivaldi, Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, Vesti la giubba by Leoncavallo, Satie's Gymnopedie No 3, and of course Dido's lament. 

Please send your poem and a link to a copyright free recording of your chosen aria to Up to 1963, UK music recordings were copyright free for 50 years, so anything up to 1961 should be eligible. 

                                                                   Jean Rafferty

If you don't feel you can join us but would like to support our work please


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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.                                                         Margaret Mead