Gettysburg: July 1, 1863

"Gettysburg: July 1, 1863" is a song by William Bolcom setting the poetry of Jane Kenyon. In the poem, Kenyon imagines the death of a soldier during the Civil War. The song was commissioned by SongFest and underwritten by the Sorel Organization. The mission of The Sorel Organization is to keep musical excellence alive and to help expand the boundaries for women in music. SongFest is grateful for the support of The Sorel Organization.

Rosemary Ritter, SongFest Founder and Artistic Director, wrote of the commission:

"I was first introduced to Jane Kenyon by Tory Browers, a wonderful singer and friend. I was drawn to the warmth and openness I felt in her poems. At the suggestion of John Musto and Lucas Wong, I decided to ask William Bolcom to write a commission for SongFest. I hoped he would agree to set one of Jane Kenyon’s poems and actually had chosen a few of my favorites. Mr. Bolcom graciously accepted and commented that he had been waiting for an opportunity to set 'Gettysburg: July 1, 1863.' We are so fortunate to have such wonderful artists come to SongFest and share their stories and view of the world through words and music.

"I am often asked what it is that we do at SongFest and why. A friend wrote '... this often neglected genre of voice and piano song will provide the singers and pianists with a rich view of this world which will nourish them for their entire lives.'"

The world premiere performance of this song was given by the 2012 SongFest Marc and Eva Stern Fellow Nathan Wyatt, baritone, and Lucas Wong, piano, on June 20, 2012 at The Colburn School (Zipper Hall) as part of SongFest.
The audio recording of "Gettysburg: July 1, 1863", is made possible through a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and SongFest. The recording is that of the world premiere (information provided above).

Date: 2012Composer: William BolcomText: Jane Kenyon

Print vitals & song text


Gettysburg: July 1, 1863
by Jane Kenyon

The young man, hardly more
than a boy, who fired the shot
had looked at him with an air
not of anger but of concentration,
as if he were surveying a road,
or feeding a length of wood into a saw:
It had to be done just so.
The bullet passed through
his upper chest, below the collarbone.
The pain was not what he might
have feared. Strangely exhilarated
he staggered out of the pasture
and into a grove of trees.
He pressed and pressed
the wound, trying to stanch
the blood, but he could only press
what he could reach, and he could
not reach his back, where the bullet
had exited.

He lay on the earth
smelling the leaves and mosses,
musty and damp and cool
after the blaze of the open afternoon.
How good the earth smelled,
as it had when he was a boy
hiding from his father,
who was intent on strapping him
for doing his chores
late one time too many.
A cowbird razzed from a rail fence.
It isn’t mockery, he thought,
no malice in it … just a noise.
Stray bullets nicked the oaks
overhead. Leaves and splinters fell.
Someone near him groaned.
But it was his own voice he heard.
His fingers and feet tingled,
the roof of his mouth,
and the bridge of his nose….
He became dry, dry, and thought
of Christ, who said, I thirst.
His man-smell, the smell of his hair
and skin, his sweat, the salt smell
of his cock and the little ferny hairs
that two women had known
left him, and a sharp, almost sweet
smell began to rise from his open mouth
in the warm shade of the oaks.
A streak of sun climbed the rough
trunk of a tree, but he did not
see it with his open eye.

Related Information


Support us and help us grow

Dear friends, Thank you for helping us build a comprehensive online archive of American song. Your gift is greatly appreciated.