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Of Heloise

Settings of the poetry of Judith Infante from Love: A Suspect Form, Heloise and Abelard for soprano and string quartet with additional settings for alto and viola (written for Justin Montigne), and string quartet with organ. Composed in 2008.

Judith Infante's Love: A Suspect Form, Heloise and Abelard, is a collection of fifty-four poems of which five have been chosen for this musical setting. This collection is published by Shearsman Books Ltd (2008). Judith Infante's poetry is published in the literary journals American Poetry Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, High Plains Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Puerto del Sol, The Texas Observer, The Blue Mesa Review; her work appears in poetry anthologies published byPapier-Mache Press.

Instrumentation: Soprano and string quartet (also alto and viola, and string quartet with organ)

Duration: 17 min.

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View a PDF sample of the score

Premiere: Nancy Ogle and the iO String Quartet; American Music Festival, NYC (2008)



Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Heloise: Prime

I wauke, morning, wound in my one dream.
Dreaming I wake in my lover's bed.

What to sing, dawn, as I rise in old clothes and take up my stone?
Stone, morning, heavy as an infant lost.

Love buried his arrows beneath this parchment wrap of bones
and keeps me bound in his bloody rags.

Hear how I sing, dawn, sing with a clotted heart.
With a clotted heart, dawn, singing my wound!

Heloise: Hymns

Our daughters praise you.
All winter icy splinters of song
rose towards the chapel's rough
planed rafters and scrolled
your lambent phrases upon them.

Your Christ-filled logic ignited
the space around the Paraclete,
our burden, your praise.
We had hours yet to toil and hard
prayers under our knees.

We had no money, and for barter
nothing. Sister knelt
before sister wrapping
her feet in rags. No fire to counter
the altar's bulk. But desire
grew silently. Squatter in every corner,
it pried open locks to chambers
beneath our veils.

As I slept, winter's insatiable
form moved over me. I woke
pinioned by the rough habit
you've dressed me in.

Spring brough melt and a low priest
to confess us. The daughters in Christ
sang, and the priest remarked
our fortune. After prayers,
your hymns stayed in the chapel,
fading with smoke and sputter of candle fat.
Here poetry is an alien.
The sisters thank you.

Heloise: Vespers

Our mouths spill the litany, tolling
to the forest's rim. She approaches our walls.

We don't hear what summons her.
We wear veils and are married to God.

The setting sun burnishes her flanks. My sisters
turn their backs. The doe is my sister.

Her bed is soft pine needles, her scent autumn
and tree bark and oestrus. I would go with her.

Beyond the convent's measured garden and seamed fields
stand the woods. Hours yet to compline.

Is she my sister?

My habit loosens, prayer book and key fall.
The ground is warm. Twigs avoid my bare feet.

Near the forest gate others wait. I hear their barks.
They are home in the moonlight. Hoofs glint.

The stag!

Then, between me and glade stands the cherubim. Sword
burns my lips and the babble begins.

Small words for sister, for words,
for doe vanished in the dark.

Mother House
(Abbey of Ste. Marie de Argenteuil)
Heloise - derived from Eloim - therefore, dedicated to God, therefore, an offering

In the shaft of the afternoon, Heloise,
a child upon her pallet, curves
into a bell. As insects drone,
light glides along the wall and lures

her with arms warm and entwining.
Dust motes spiral and rise along
a ladder lit to heaven. And they sing.
She thinks she remembers this song

which calls to another. Under her tongue
the response quivers. She wants to touch
the phantom voice. Sing with it. But not one
thing can she hold. To clutch

afternoon light leaves you cold. Night will come
and time beats a loud, empty drum.

Chant - Epilogue

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

(For alto and viola version)

Abelard: Confession, to Heloise

And so, to banish fearful anxiety and all uncertanties
From the heart within your breat, receive assurance from me...

I confess you made night glorious day
And each dawn I left your bed was dark falling.

I confess I was born to a first song's claims,
but rejected the life of merely a man.

For I believed God's mind to be
a crystal of logic, every sillogism

something of its core. And even if
I opened a small window of though,

I confess to prisms. Lady I am ashamed
before Christendom and orphaned to the world.

I admit relentless pursuit of Lady Philosophy,
and I confess a false loyalty to you.

Because I mistook the nature of Truth,
before you I confess my ignorance.

But I spoke the truth to name you Helios, Sun.

A woman comes here to sit beside me.
She wears white linen and her face is yours.

I am finished with words and confess
each day without you has been dark falling.

© 2008 Judith Infante.
All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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