Those crimson and white petals started something in me.

Lewes bells are chiming midday and I still haven’t written this blog.

I’ve played with my weights ’til my muscles burned……

…I’ve drunk loads of coffee and my head is on fire….

…but I just can’t settle to write this.

Rather pathetically, my mood was wrenched into melancholy whilst I was dead-heading the roses  and when I noticed that all the fallen petals were either crimson or white…..

I have recently watched a really surprizingly good BBC drama serial called The Crimson Petal And The White based on Michel Faber’s excellent 2002 novel.

I can’t recommend it to everyone in case you are easily shocked by stories concerning prostitutes and, yes, sex in Victorian London but if you think you can take it both the tv series and the book are well worth finding. The series was possibly the best drama from the BBC all year.

The title is based on a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal (1847) and it was this poem and a setting of the words by the English composer Roger Quilter (1877-1963) that has haunted me ever since the tv series came to its disturbing ending. Those rose petals finally did it for me – I just had to listen to that song. I sang it when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London and it has always played somewhere near the back of my mind ever since.

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:

So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

It is written for a tenor but here it is sung, remarkably, an octave lower by one of my all-time favourite singers, the wonderful Paul Robeson (1898-1976) with perfect diction so you not only hear every word but, unlike me in those student days, but you can actually understand the meaning too. No precious preppie English tenor stuff here – this is as American as Roger Quilter ever gets. Hey, I feel better now.


  1. What an amazing voice and such warmth.
    We 'did' Tennyson for 'O' level with a very limp teacher. I've struggled to escape her extreme languidity with the poems ever since. 😉

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