At Home in Staten Island

Song Collection

At Home in Staten Island is a song cycle for soprano and violin by composer Scott Wheeler. It sets the text of Charles Mackay and was commissioned by the Five Boroughs Music Festival for the Five Borough Songbook. It was premiered in October 2011 at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York.

Composer: Scott WheelerText: Charles Mackay

Print vitals & song text


At Home in Staten Island
by Charles Mackay

My true love clasped me by the hand,
And from our garden alley,
Looked o’er the landscape seamed with sea,
And rich with hill and valley.
And said, “We’ve found a pleasant place
As fair as thine and my land,
A calm abode, a flowery home
In sunny Staten Island .

“Behind us lies the teeming town
With lust of gold grown frantic ;
Before us glitters o’er the bay,
The peaceable Atlantic .
We hear the murmur of the sea —
A monotone of sadness,
But not a whisper of the crowd,
Or echo of its madness.

“See how the dogwood sheds its bloom
Through all the greenwood mazes,
As white as the untrodden snow
That hides in shady places.
See how the fair catalpa spreads
Its azure flowers in masses,
Bell-shaped, as if to woo the wind
To ring them as it passes.

“See stretching o’er the green hill side,
The haunt of cooing turtle,
The clambering vine, the branching elm,
The maple and the myrtle,
The undergrowth of flowers and fern
In many-tinted lustre,
And parasites that climb or creep,
And droop, and twist, and cluster.

“Behold the gorgeous butterflies
That in the sunshine glitter,
The bluebird, oriole, and wren
That dart and float and twitter:
And humming birds that peer like bees
In stamen and in pistil,
And, over all, the bright blue sky
Translucent as a crystal.

“The air is balmy, not too warm,
And all the landscape sunny
Seems, like the Hebrew Paradise,
To flow with milk and honey.
Here let us rest, a little while —
Not rich enough to buy land,
And pass a summer well content
In bowery Staten Island .”

“A little while,” I made reply
“A little while — one summer:
For, pleasant though the land may be
To any fresh new comer,
I miss the primrose in the dell,
The blue-bell in the wild wood,
And daisy glinting through the grass,
The comrade of my childhood.

“I miss the ivy on the wall,
The grey church in the meadow,
The fragrant hawthorn in the lanes,
And all the beechen shadow.
And more than all that proves to me
It never can be my land,
I miss the music of the groves
In leafy Staten Island.

“There’s not a bird in glen or shaw
That has a note worth hearing ;
Unvocal all as barn-door fowls,
Or land-rails in the clearing.
Give me the skylark far aloft To heaven up-singing, soaring ;
Or nightingale, at close of day,
Lamenting but adoring !

“Give me the throstle on the bough,
The blackbird and the linnet,
Or any bird that sings a song
As if its heart were in it.
And not your birds of gaudier plume,
That you can see a mile hence,
And only need, to be admired,
The priceless charm of silence.

“There’s drone, I grant, of wasps and bees,
And sanguinary hornets,

That blow their trumps as loud and shrill
As regimental cornets.
And all night long the bull-frogs croak
With melancholy crooning,
Like large bass-viols out of gear,
And tortured in the tuning.

“And then those nimble poisonous fiends,
The insatiable mosquitoes
That come in armies noon and night,
To plague, if not to eat us.
The devil well deserves his name,*
That sent them to the dry land ;
Let us away across the sea,
Far, far from Staten Island !”

“Ah, well !” my true love said and smiled, ” There’s shade to every glory ;
There’s no true paradise on earth
Except in song or story.

The place is fair, and while thou’rt here,
Thy land shall still be my land,
And all the Eden earth affords
Be ours in Staten Island.”

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