Blair Sets Emily Dickinson’s “Farewell” to Song Shortly Before His Death
“And kiss the hills for me, just once…”
By Maria Popova
Perhaps because poetry, in the shimmering words of Elizabeth Alexander, “is the human voice,” something magical happens when musicians set beloved poems to song — from Natalie Merchant’s adaptations of Victorian nursery rhymes to Tin Hat’s songs based on e.e. cummings to The Wraiths’ musical celebration of William Blake.
One of the most unusual and wonderful such reimaginings comes from the late and great poet, musician, and activist David Blair, better known as Blair and aptly anointed by GLAAD as “a gay black Renaissance man.” Blair set Emily Dickinson’s poem “Farewell,” found in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (public library), to song — acapella, no less — live at the Detroit Institute of Arts, filmed by Erik Proulx. Blair’s sudden death of heat stroke shortly after this performance, at the age of only forty-three, lends the poem a new solemn poignancy.
Tie the strings to my life, my Lord,
Then I am ready to go!
Just a look at the horses—
Rapid! That will do!
Put me in on the firmest side,
So I shall never fall;
For we must ride to the Judgment,
And it’s partly down hill.
But never I mind the bridges,
And never I mind the sea;
Held fast in everlasting race
By my own choice and thee.
Good-by to the life I used to live,
And the world I used to know;
And kiss the hills for me, just once;
Now I am ready to go!
Complement with a very different musical adaptation of Dickinson by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur and these lovely illustrations of the celebrated poet’s work.
Published August 4, 2015