On Baldness & Other Songs

Cynthia Lee Wong

multiple librettists

Performance forces:
sop — orchestra ( – – timp/rt, 3 perc, hp, pno/cel – str



Song texts Adapted from the following poetry: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “A Psalm of Life”. Po Chü-I, “On His Baldness,” “Since I Lay Ill”, “The Chrysanthemums in the Eastern Garden,” and Li Po, “Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day,” translated by Arthur Waley, from More Translations from the Chinese. Used by permission of the Estate of Arthur Waley. All rights reserved worldwide. I. On Baldness At dusk I sighed to see my hairs fall. I used to dread when the last lock should go… They’re all gone, and I don’t mind at all! I’m done with that cumbrous washing and getting dry; My tiresome comb’s forever laid aside. Best of all, when the weather’s hot and wet, To have no top-knot weighing down one’s head! In a silver jar I have stored a cold stream; On my bald pate I trickle a ladle-full. Like one baptized with the Water of Buddha’s Law, I sit and receive this cool, cleansing joy. Now—I know why the priest who seeks Repose Frees his heart by first shaving his head. II. Since I Lay Ill Since I lay ill, how long has passed? Almost a hundred heavy-hanging days. I remember, when I was young, How rapidly my mood changed from sad to gay. Now that age strikes, A moment of joy, harder and harder to get… The maids have learnt to gather my medicine-herbs; The dog no longer barks when the doctor knocks… How can I bear, when Earth renews her light, To watch from a pillow the beautiful Spring blossom? Oh late chrysanthemum-flower Why do you bloom alone? Though well I know it is not for me, Taught by you, I will open my face. III. Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day “Life in the World is one big dream; I will not spoil it by labour or care.” I was drunk all day, Lying helplessly on the porch. When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn; A lonely bird was singing ‘mid the flowers. Had the day been wet or fine? The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird. Moved by its song I soon began to sigh, And as there was wine I filled my own cup. Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise. “Life is an empty, endless dream! The soul is dead that slumbers. And things are not what they seem.” When my song was over, all my senses had gone. Commissioned by musica viva and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra