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Sure on This Shining Night

My SAB high school choir is performing Barber's "Sure on This Shining Night" and I am having a hard time finding any analysis about the poetry. My students are having a hard time understanding the meaning of the piece. I would love some suggestions from anyone who has performed the piece or
knows anything about it. Thanks.

Alyssa Cossey

on March 17, 2008 6:59pm
It is from his only book of poems called Permit Me Voyage and is selected
from the poem Description of Elysium. You might try reading them the entire poem, but honestly I do not think that was Barber's Intention to set it in context. He was a great lover of poetry, as is evidenced by many of his works. The selection of verse is lush and evocative. As it stands, it sort of defies traditional poetic analysis. It is not narrative, nor is it directed. It's very hard to introduce this as a form of poetry to younger readers, but it can be done. You need to explain that not all poetry is about something, but it can also be about feelings, or something you see or think at a particular moment in time. They should understand this sort of approach. It's really a great book of poetry.

Barber also used selections from his short story for Knoxville Summer of

This selection of poems was written while he was a journalist for Fortune
Magazine and published in 1934.

He published a few novels and did some screenplays but no other poetry. He
died at 44 of a heart attack in 1955. He was primarily a writer and sort of a social activist. Rumor has it that he was rather a passionate sort of man, with an unquenchable thirst for life and a great compassion for the poor and disenfranchised. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his novel A Death in the Family which was published posthumously.

If you want to get the entire poem though, you have to buy the book... It's
still under copyright.

Best I can do, on short notice.

Good luck, it's a great piece for high schoolers, it's a very touching and
lovely melody.

Dawn Southwick

**************It's Tax Time! Get tips, forms, and advice on AOL Money &
Finance. (

on March 19, 2008 7:45am

First of all, I agree that the poem is a tough one to decipher. While the whole poem (Description of Elysium) is clearly describing a particular afterlife, the section that is 'Sure on this shining night' could also be about life here on earth ("this side the ground").

So..., I think your singers might connect to either of
these two scenarios --

1) They are still alive, on a solo journey in an awe-
inspiring locale, having recently gone through some very
traumatic events. But now all is healed, all is wonderful,
and they have a new appreciation for how wonderful Life is. They could even take this one step into the future, and envision Earth having been restored to health once we humans finally find a way to restore global balance. (Maybe they could imagine singing this one to Al Gore, as a token of their appreciation... :-)

2) They are on a phenomenal journey in the next life, and
are having a completely different set of experiences.
They're also seeing the Earth from a completely different
perspective (a more heavenly one, for sure), and
appreciating it -- and their past Earthly existence -- all
the more.

Whichever of these the kids choose, it would be helpful for
them to use their imagination and come up with lots of
specific images which they can draw from as they sing. By
the way, I don't believe they have to choose the same
scenario -- even if 1/3 chose #1, 1/3 chose #2, and 1/3
chose one of their own creation (that evoked a similar
connection) ... the group would still be unified in
communicating the text and music.

Best of luck!


Tom Carter

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