On this clear autumn evening in South Africa, as if in concert, all across the Overberg, the rolling hills are being sown with wheat and barley—the prelude to one of the most beautiful sights in the world: fields blown by the wind!
Over the past few months, I have been working on a new album. It began at about the same time as my collaboration with Krzyzis in late 2016. Early on, I knew that both projects would share a theme and have a similar concept. These were first explored in The Zephyr and the Swallow—the collaborative EP with Krzyzis—a combination of poetry and ambient music inspired by my love for the countryside. The EP was built around a couplet, a short poem of two lines I wrote to inspire the music; but for the album, I wanted to expand on the idea and write a larger work, a series of verses for a ballad.
The Zephyr and the Swallow EP illustrated a pastoral scene—the wind blows over a field and a swallow dashes into the sky—an idyllic moment of beauty set in a rural landscape. In my youth, at the height of summer, I would spend hours in the fields watching the wind making waves in the grass and the swallows flying overhead. Even now, I find this simple pastime a most enchanting and vivid experience. It is just such a scene I describe in the couplet I wrote for The Zephyr and the Swallow—“Over the field the zephyr blew, / Into the sky the swallow flew”—lines I set to music to create an ode.
Writing the Poem
I started writing the poem for the album in late 2016, going through numerous drafts until I eventually found a form and approach that felt appropriate. In much the same way one agonises over the notes of a musical composition, one pores over a poem—every syllable of every word carefully chosen to exquisitely articulate a meaning or express an emotion. After three months of assembling and dismantling verses, I finally produced “Forgotten Fields”, a self-titled ballad with six verses. In the poem, a daydreamer nostalgically recalls a happy moment in time, surrounded by fields and swallows.
Central to the theme of the poem is the feeling of wistfulness—a longing tinged with regret—conveyed by the imagery. It describes a world of endless fields, swallows impossible to catch, a memory forgotten and rediscovered. The lines are gentle and flowing—the musings of someone lost in thought. They are beautifully read by English narrator Chris Lateano for the compact disc release. “Forgotten Fields”, the all-encompassing title, is alluded to in the final verse:
Far away and left untrodden
Under summer skies
Lie the fields I had forgotten
Where the swallow flies!
Autumn is a time when the earthy beiges of summer turn verdant green. In the countryside, where I am fortunate to reside, this change in the landscape marks the beginning of my favourite time of the year. As the season progresses, the wheat stands tall enough to blow in the wind. Their wavelike movement always reminds me of Winternag (Afrikaans for “winter’s night”), a poem by Eugène Marais. In it, he likens the grasses blowing in the wind to beckoning hands. And that is exactly how I experience them. They invite me; the fields call out to me! I am compelled to stand in their midst and revel in their beauty!
In the autumn of 2012, I listened almost exclusively to the music of July Skies. Their gentle blend of disarming instrumentals and melancholy vocals made me fall in love with my surroundings, over and over again. So much so that I was inspired to write Autumn, which I humbly share with you, here:
I smell the wispy, rising smoke as autumn fires burn,
I feel the crispness of the air as shortened days return.
How the sky seems clearer,
Bluer in the cold;
How the green hills dearer
Than all of summer’s gold!
Mornings come with gentle mist that quietly greets the day,
All about the countryside the brightest hues are grey.
I need only wait a while
Before the hills appear;
I need only see them smile
My heart to fill with cheer!
I wonder at the long, thick grass that won’t give up the dew,
Midday finds them glistening still, in gentle sunlight, new!
Soon the day is ending,
Already evening falls;
To the moon ascending,
I hear a nightjar calls!
When the rainfall comes, the shallow rivers flood
Drizzle turns to torrents and moistened soil to mud.
Now and then the sun will show
Through heavy cloud to shine;
Now and then, the winding road
To make a silvery line!