“Time drives the flocks from field to fold….”

Thinking back on the “Setting Poetry to Music” seminar, I hear Alyse O’Hara’s song rendition of Sir Walter Ralegh’s poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” which in turn responds to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Today I noticed the pacing and time she gives to the line “Time drives the flocks from field to fold.” You can listen to the song here.

The song’s major key makes room for melancholy. At the seminar, someone brought up the elasticity and capaciousness of music; this seemed like a good example. The melody might be considered “happy” in another context, but here it sounds wistful, with a twist of pain. To me, the repetitions (e.g. “to live, to live, to live with thee, and be, and be, and be thy love”) have a kind of weary knowledge to them. The nymph sees all too well what it would be like to trust the shepherd’s promises and take part in a dying eternity.

In Marlowe’s poem, the shepherd makes promises like the following:

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

In Ralegh’s poem, the nymph responds, detail by detail:

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

O’Hara’s song seens true to the poem and to life; you can imagine the nymph down by the water, on the rocks, reflecting on the shepherd’s words and seeing through them. The last verse, in which she imagines what it would be like if things were otherwise (“But could youth last, and love still breed, / Had joys no date, nor age no need….”), has pauses between the utterances, and you can hear so much in those pauses.

Many of the presenters gave me permission to post at least some of their materials; we now have a web page dedicated to the seminar.

In terms of music alone, much has happened since my return: a brilliant Galaxisok concert at the A38 Hajó (with the opening band Laiho, whom I loved); Kolibri’s new song “Gleccser“; Cz.K. Sebő’s “Értelmet“; a video of “Záporozó” by Henri Gonzo és a Papírsárkányok; and more.

Keeping up with the music is less important than taking time with it. Two different relationships to time: both important, neither one perfectible. You can never keep up with the music, nor can you take as much time with it as it deserves. So you find your pace, mixture, limitations, and whimsy. In that imbalance of things, it’s fine to fall behind for the sake of a song.

There is more to say. Another time or times. (But I added a bit to thie piece after posting it.)

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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