The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending

My father grew to love classical music later in life, after spending his boyhood in real poverty during the Great Depression in rural Utah outside Salt Lake City, after lying about his age in order to join the army during World War ll, after spending four years fighting fascism inside a tank somewhere in Italy, after marrying my mother, a first generation Italian immigrant and high school contemporary, after earning a college degree in forestry on the GI Bill and after conceiving two daughters.

Although those facets of his life’s events are commonly known, it is his love of classical music that for me embodies his true essence.  He favored rich, full bodied, heart pumping mad dashes to the finish line like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannon fire, The New World Symphony by Dvorak and just about everything by Sibelius.  Occasionally he could listen to the more deliberate and calculated music of Mozart or Wagner but he didn’t delight in them nor did he appreciate the current music of the day which was rarely played in our home.  My sister and I may have been the only two kids in 1964 America that, without even knowing it, missed the Beatles iconic performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

It was inevitable then that when he died after an exhausting and painful battle with prostate cancer, music would be part of his memorial service.  Years earlier he had shared with my mother a vivid account of a piece called The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams.  The passion behind that conversation came back to her in the days after his death.  She tells of his intensity as he described what he had heard and the wonderment he felt at the lyrical beauty of the music.  Surprisingly though, even after this early glowing appraisal no one in our immediate family had ever heard the it.

This particular piece of music as well as its composer has always been quite popular with the Brits, Vaughn Williams being a favorite son but neither are as well known here and it felt like a miracle when a family friend with connections to the classical music community arranged for a violinist and pianist to play at my father’s memorial.  And so in a simple mortuary chapel on a cold January day with the solace of family and friends, the duet began.  The composition is quiet and guileless.  It evokes the warmth of a gentle sun and the caress of a light breeze, a bird’s song, the flutter of wings, green rolling hills, a clear blue sky and clouds of cotton.  It stirs feelings of reverence and gratitude for the simplest of joys that life offers.  The melody flutters upward, tumbles lightheartedly and at last rises again toward the unseen heavens, softly disappearing and leaving one longing for that ephemeral state of grace.

The music captured the imagination of so many people in the chapel on that day.  For us it felt like time stopped.  For fourteen minutes there was no anguish, no regrets about the past, no fear of the future.  The notes simply distilled into beauty, compassion and love.

In January it will be 22 years since I first heard that touching theme but over the years I have found many occasions to listen again.  I am sometimes sad, recalling a deep loss, sometimes encouraged at the hopefulness the music inspires and sometimes sweetly content.  I have come to see that this piece is not only an intimate connection with my father but it also embodies something else too; a reminder that life is a miracle and that by living fully and deeply, we may recognize and experience the state of grace next time it appears.


(NOTE) The Lark Ascending is based on a poem of the same name by George Meredith which has over 120 verses.  But as I read the three that the composer selected as those that influenced him the most, I was astounded to see how the notes composed by one master and words compiled by another became a mirror and its reflection.


He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound,

Of many links without a break,

In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,

‘Tis love of earth that he instils,

And ever winging up and up,

Our valley is his golden cup

And he the wine which overflows

to lift us with him as he goes.

 Till lost on his aerial rings

In light, and then the fancy sings.

About Hana

I enjoy writing and taking courses with others. I particularly enjoy the courses offered through this group and have completed a few of them over the last couple years. Not only is the instruction terrific, I learn so much from my classmates' writing too. This course is no exception. There have been some beautiful and touching posts and I am grateful to be a part of such an experience.
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13 Responses to The Lark Ascending

  1. Alan says:

    Just beautiful writing. You have a poet’s sensitivity to the sound of language. A pleasure to read.

    • Hana says:

      Thank you very much Alan. It is difficult to know if I’m over describing things or when I get too sentimental.

      P.S. I found the poem when I was doing a little research on the music for this post. That was pretty cool…

  2. Gary says:

    Wonderful stuff Hana 🙂

    And a question…. I encountered a Hana on another course here. Was that you by any chance?

    • Hana says:

      Hi Gary. Yup, I’m back for more. Nice to “read you” again.

      • Gary says:

        How small the world seems in meeting once more here and nicely put wrt “read you” again 🙂

        I kept in touch with the Freckly one from last time so no coincidence we are both here lol. Hope you are enjoying it. I bottled lesson two as the conversation memoir was a touch too personal. I did write Ghost Carp further down though and hope to revisit with lesson three!

        • Hana says:

          Hi again. I went looking for Ghost Carp but no luck….what am I doing wrong?

          • Gary says:

            Hi Hana,

            Top of this page click on the essentials of memoir writing class blog. Top left will be three horizontal bars, click on that and select posts, all. That will take you to your posts. Click on published and you will find the list of all published posts and mine is on page two now…least it was when I just looked !!

          • Gary says:

            Edit…top of this page, where I said but hit dashboard to get to your dashboard then follow the above 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    A wonderful piece. Very strong writing and a lesson learned nice work!

  4. freckles says:

    Just like the piece of music – your writing carried me away. Funny thing you mentioned that your father loved this piece of music, the name rang a bell, as I began to listen to it on YouTube, I knew it! My mother used to listen to this! As well as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Thank you so much for bringing this memory of music back to me.

    Nice to know I’m referred by Gary as the Freckly one by Gary! Lol, He’s a cheeky monkey 🙂

  5. Flo says:

    Enjoyed your piece immensely – it reminds one of the beauty in music and verse!

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