In this song, Dickinson’s “wind” is heard before the text begins, as Copland writes a tempestuous ascending piano line as an introduction to the song. The singer is then left to announce the first line of the song alone, herself “a bugle,” before the text and music “quiver,” swirl, and dip in and out of chaos. Listen for the seamless flow of the flooding river and a wild waltz that can be heard during the “bell” section. The song ends as it began, with an almost identical ascending piano line and a great declamation from the soprano of the prophetic final two lines.
Notice the distinctly “American” qualities of this song. Dickinson’s use of the American Indian term “moccasin” is blatantly American. Even the storm that Copland conjures up seems uniquely American. Perhaps this is because the song seems completely unruly, following with the American stereotype (i.e. revolutionaries, pioneers, cowboys, etc.). However, Copland’s compositional rhetoric is refined and mature, and this song foreshadows his 1954 opera The Tender Land, which takes place on a farm in Midwestern America.
There came a wind like a bugle
by Emily Dickinson
There came a wind like a bugle,
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the window and the doors
As from an emerald ghost
The doom’s electric moccasin
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of planting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day,
The bell within the steeple wild,
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come and much can go,
And yet abide the world!
Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
Composer(s): Aaron Copland
Song(s): 1. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
2. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
3. Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
4. The World Feels Dusty
5. Heart, We Will Forget Him
6. Dear March, Come In!
7. Sleep is Supposed to Be
8. When They Come Back
9. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
10. I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes
11. Going to Heaven!
12. The Chariot