The more I compose, and the more I teach composition, the more I think about memory. After all, to write engaging music, the composer has to rely on the memory of their audience. Whether it is the memory of an earlier theme, an expectation that is met in an unexpected way, or writing in a style reminiscent of times past, we rely on the audience to cover the rift. Fittingly, Mnemosyne, by the American poet Trumbull Stickney (1874-1904), is named after the Greek goddess of memory and the mother of the nine Muses. Stickney tells a story of remembrance and nostalgia, relying on our own memories and supplying us with more, with the refrain of the country we remember.
It's autumn in the country I remember.
How warm a wind blew here about the ways!
And shadows on the hillside lay to slumber
During the long sun-sweetened summer-days.
It's cold abroad the country I remember.
The swallows veering skimmed the golden grain
At midday with a wing aslant and limber;
And yellow cattle browsed upon the plain.
It's empty down the country I remember.
I had a sister lovely in my sight:
Her hair was dark, her eyes were very sombre;
We sang together in the woods at night.
It's lonely in the country I remember.
The babble of our children fills my ears,
And on our hearth I stare the perished ember
To flames that show all starry thro' my tears.
It's dark about the country I remember.
There are the mountains where I lived. The path
Is slushed with cattle-tracks and fallen timber,
The stumps are twisted by the tempests' wrath.
But that I knew these places are my own,
I'd ask how came such wretchedness to cumber
The earth, and I to people it alone.
It rains across the country I remember.