Keeping Quiet

SATB, SB soli, harpsichord, cello, perc.

I share Neruda's frustration with the vituperative quality of public discourse. This is a quiet song, imagining "if we could do nothing for once/perhaps a great silence would/interrupt this sadness/this never understanding ourselves." The harpsichord is a nod to Bach Society director Paul Boehnke, for whom the piece was written, and imitates the Nueva canción guitar style of Neruda's Chile.

Perusal Score: 

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Order Sheet Music
Catalog Number: 
Commissioned By: 
Olivet Congregational Church
Text Author or Source: 
Pablo Neruda; trans. Stephen Mitchell
English (orig. Spanish)

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without engines*, [this word originally translated as "locomotives." - jdm]
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

[the following stanza not used in musical setting]
The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.