Time Passages was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Choir to form the centrepiece of the Terra Australis program, to be performed in 18 concerts in Australia, Germany, Denmark, Belgium and England during 2019.
The poem, printed below, is by Mark Tredinnick (born in Sydney, 1962).
The musical setting is by Alan Holley (born in Sydney, 1956).
The first performance will take place at 3pm on Sunday 16 June 2019 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middle Park.
The poem is printed in full below. The new work for choir uses the text shown in bold.
Notes by the poet and the composer follow.
Once, a while before
time began to count,
I stood on shore with a girl and saw a petrel
Fly its colours—tropic green, volcanic
Grey—above the azure
of a bay.
We’re long done, she and I, but still
I stand, glad in the sun, married to the moment
We shared with a bird
while earth spun and spooled
Its breezes, unspooled reprises of every day
Yet sung. Time does not pass in the country of
The mind; the heart
is not a race time runs,
For time is tidal there. But in the flesh—
Where one turn’s all we seem to get—time wins.
What if we live
two lives at once: one like
An ocean; the other, a shore? What if who
We are did not begin with us—each fish,
A river; each bird, a sky?
The petrel lives
A circuit, neither here nor there: her home
A way she fares, a round she wings. Once,
clockwise, like the bird,
Time landed in the bay and stayed. Time found
A world, which, until then, contained, like each
Of us, the world enough;
which spoke five hundred
Tongues—keeping, each, the kind of time
That rivers keep. And seeds. For, once, this was
A world that had no time
for time, no space
For haste. What counted here were mind and matter—
Places and their lyrics, caught and released,
Sown and reaped,
kept wild in mouths and ways,
The nomadic canticle days, of people who told
Their names in care for kin and made their homes
In circles. And then
there came this second-hand realm
Whose hours never ebbed—the world that beached
That day and wound its clocks and laid a maths
Of months and minutes
down across the dreaming
Land. But the dreaming wasn’t once. It couldn’t
Stop. It never wasn’t; it always is.
Truth is, since then,
the world’s a two-track mind:
Time runs sly beside the dry-creek beds,
While down the rivers, days migrate like eels
And spawn and die
at sea, and later like children
Return; the days migrate like plovers north,
and in their season, like oceans, reprise the shore.
There was a world,
and still there is, that sings
The seasons low in circling breath and phrases
The days in currents and rains and birds that make
All moments over
into country. The dreaming
Days don’t pass; they mean. Forever’s going
Nowhere fast; being refuses measure.
But even when this world
was all the time
There was, whales and curlews and snipes shipped other
Tempi here—the Silk Road, the Arctic, Japan—
And timeless weathers
back the way that time
Had swum: the Leewards, Tahiti, the Deeps. The dreaming
Drifts. The shorebirds make its pieces fast.
No island is
an island in a world
That won’t lie still. Eternity notwithstanding,
Time’s been running headlong from the start.
And so it’s noon
and then it’s night and then
It’s dawn again. The world grows long and years
Grow short. Even in the dreaming, deadlines
Fall. Come, teach me the trick
of keeping one’s feet
On ageless ground, my love, while leading one’s days
In time. Sing me a piece of the river’s mind.
The places seem
to know the score the shore
Shares with the sea. And down below the trees,
The George’s River spreads its canopy
Of fallen light.
And this, you say, is where
You once were young. What happened to you back then
Is where we stand today. Beside us on sandstone
The fig and
the apple have interlaced their limbs.
The smoke of fires rises where it always
Rose; currawongs play for time with song;
And long-finned eels
swim coral seas upstream.
Let earth rehearse in us slow words for love
Let love rehearse in earth slow words for time.
Notes on Time Passages by Alan Holley
In 2017 the ACC performed my And the rain (text: Mark Tredinnick) in Melbourne and in Sydney and soon after started a conversation about writing a new work that described the voyage by James Cook to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus and then, under instructions from the British Admiralty, to journey on to ‘discover’ a large southern continent.
For some people this journey of Cook was of immense importance and the subsequent settling of British peoples and the complete takeover of ‘the southern continent’ created untold wealth for the British Empire. For others it led to an invasion of a land that had been inhabited for 50,000 years by people of many indigenous nations. Present day Australia now has to straddle these two truths.
What initially could be seen as a European expedition for a scientific observation has had long lasting consequences for the land that became known as Australia – a land of hope and opportunity for some and of dispossession for the first people of the land.
In the sound world I chose to inhabit for this 8-part choral work I found that one of my favourite Australian birds, the superb lyrebird, was an influence. This extraordinary mimic takes sounds from ‘here and there’ and creates its own unique song full of imitation of the natural world and that of the mechanical world that humans have made. I have allowed sounds and melodies from different times and places to meld to make a single ‘song’.
Mark’s text, with its lyrical repetitions, helped in the structure of the work which has a near cyclical form – much like nature itself.
Notes on Time Passages by Mark Tredinnick
My poem, “Time Passages,” named in part for a pop song I used to love, responds to a commission from my friend the composer Alan Holley to write a poem from which he might spawn a choral work; it is what came to mind in five-beat lines this last hot summer in answer to theme the Australian Chamber Choir wanted him to work with in this new work he’s made for them. I came to think of that theme, the beaching of time on eternity’s shore as an ecotone where two orders of existence, two aspects of every life— “one like an ocean; the other, a shore”—crash and coalesce but never cohere. That littoral zone is what “Time Passages” is; what it tries to sing is what eternity will not stop saying to time.
Specifically, the poem considers the moment when time arrived in the pockets and on the brows of Cook and Banks and their men. It mourns the doom time brought; it gives thanks, too, for all that the Dreaming has taught time (and all of uscaught in it).
But that cataclysmic and regenerative moment is all our lives: Two lives run in all of us, rarely quite in step: the dreaming that never wasn’t and the years that will not stop passing. Though we age, “time does not pass in the country of the mind; the heart is not a race time runs.”
To choreograph this contradiction, to say this asynchrony—the eternity we carry in our ageing frames—“Time Passages” keeps a steady (loosely iambic) beat, and it holds a steady recursive (three-line) form, in the manner of the tides and the migratory birds; but there are cross-winds and unconformities; there are warps in time’s weft; there is foundered love and there are new-found-lands; there are petrels and trade winds that fly the way Cook came (this was Alan and Annie’s idea) and shorebirds and eels that travel the way time came; there are philosophic riffs and geophanic rants; there are roughbarked apples; there is the Silk Road.
Moments last, but years do not. This is one thing poetry and the dreaming and song understand and want us to know—before time runs out.** book now for ** TERRA AUSTRALIS
1. Petrel—the Tahiti petrel and one or two others travel more or less the same route (not including New Zealand) James Cook travelled from the North Pacific to the east coast of Australia.
2. Time does not pass in the country/ of the mind—I have in mind the chapter “The Country of the Mind” in Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams
3. Neither here nor there—Seamus Heaney, “Postscript”
4. A way she fares—I have in mind ideas about home as migration, a way fared, once or perpetually, as if the way were the home, explored by Wade Davis in The Wayfarers.
5. Time landed in the bay and stopped—The landing of Captain James Cook in Botany Bay, 1770.
6. But when this world was all the time there was… the shorebirds make its pieces fast: I have in mind the way this “timeless land” was, all the while, joined to the rest of the world by the migratory birds.
7. No island ins an island: references John Donne’s “No man is an island”: “No man is an island entire of itself;/ every man is a piece of the continent,/ a part of the main…”
8. The fig and the apple—the Port Jackson Fig and the Angophora, or Rough-barked Apple.
9. Long-finned eels—I’ve described here what is understood to be the life-cycle of the long-finned (and the short-finned) eel, which spawns in the Coral Sea and dies, and its young swim on the East Australia Current to river mouths on the east coast of Australia, and the maturing eels find their way up rivers—it is thought, in each case the same river their parent inhabited—to live in fresh water for up to sixty years…