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Review from The Times
Friday, December 16, 1870
 
CHRISTMAS BOOKS

At the head of the Christmas books we, must place The Window, or the Loves of the Wrens (Strahan). What more can heart wish than Alfred Tennyson’s verse and Arthur Sullivan’s music? What more can eye desire than the rich yet tasteful emblazonment which makes the casket worthy of the jewels it contains? Our task to-day is too manifold to allow us to criticize in detail the work of either the poet or the musician. In a short preface Mr. Tennyson tells us that his “song-cycle” is four years old; he speaks of it as “a puppet, whose almost only merit is, perhaps, that it can dance to Mr. Sullivan’s instrument;” adding, “I am very sorry that my four-year-old puppet should have to dance at all in the dark shadow of these days.”

The songs themselves remind us of Maud, although nothing that Mr. Tennyson has written is altogether like them. They are 12 in number. The story that connects them is simple enough, but in the hands of such a poet the simplest story can be made to yield richly. A lover stands on the slope of a hill “when the winds are up in the morning;” he sees the sunlight flashing on the far-away window-pane of his love, and his thoughts are the burden of the first song. In the next he has come down to the plain; he stands under her window, and sings to the flowers that climb around it:–

“Rose, rose and clematis,
“Drop me a flower, a flower, to kiss.”

This is a charming song, and its music is as charming. In the third, fourth, and fifth songs we follow the lover in various metres through his various moods. The third is a dirge in his love’s absence, the fourth calls aloud to and defies the closing winter, which has bitten into the heart of the earth, but not into his heart; in the fifth, spring has come, the wrens have begun to build about the window, and he sings to them of “men’s love and birds’ love.” Other songs, not one of which we would pass over if a hundred volumes were not plucking us by the sleeve, tell us how the singer sends a letter to his love – one song gives the letter itself – and how he doubts and fears even while breaking the seal of her answer. But her answer is what it could only be, and the next song is a burst of triumphant joy. In the 11th the marriage day is fixed, in the 12th its morning has come:–

“Here is the golden close of love,
“All my wooing is done.”

He sees again the glinting of the sun upon her window, and he sings:–

“Light, so low in the vale,
  “You flash and lighten afar:
“For this is the golden morning of love,
  “And you are his morning star.
   
“Flash, I am coming, I come,
  “By meadow, and stile and wood;
“O lighten into my eyes and heart,
  “Into my heart and my blood!
   
“Heart are you great enough
  “For a love that never tires?
“O, heart! are you great enough for love?
  “I have heard of thorns and briers.
   
“Over the thorns and briers.
  “Over the meadows and stiles,
“Over the world to the end of it
  “Flash for a million miles.”

Mr. Sullivan’s music is such as only Mr. Sullivan could write. Of perfect melody, but rescued from monotony by a richness of harmony and variety of accompaniment rare indeed, at least in English song, it is suited to the words and they to it, and both are worthy the reputation of the first song-writer and the first song-setter of the day.


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