The Crown of Laurel

Set by Christopher M. Wicks to a poem by Ursula K. Le Guin

10Mb MP3

(Alison Seeber, soprano; Sue Allan, flute; Eadie Anelli, violin; Jenny Gleason, ’cello; Douglas Carl Schneider, piano; Christopher Wicks, composer and conductor)

“The Crown of Laurel:” a Greek myth tells us that Apollo, the Sun God, fell in love with the nymph Daphne, which means he tried to rape her. She ran, crying out to her father, a river god, who, even as Apollo caught her, changed her to a laurel tree. Apollo made himself a crown of the leaves. The laurel became his symbol and was used to crown victors in sport and battle. This is Daphne’s version of the story.

From “Songs of the Here and Now” (a recital given August 2007 at the Oregon Garden in Silverton: settings of poems by living Oregonian poets)

Christopher M. Wicks is active as a church musician, composer, and accompanist. He holds two Master’s degrees in music, one in composition (from the University of Montreal, 1999) and one in organ (from the University of Oregon, 2006). His music has been performed in eleven American states, four European countries, Canada and South Korea.


The Crown of Laurel

He liked to feel my fingers in his hair.

So he pulled them off me, wove a wreath of them,

and wears it at parades and contests,

my dying fingers with their kitchen smell

interlocked around his sunny curls.

Sometimes he rests on me a while.

Aside from that, he seems to have lost interest.


It wasn’t to preserve my virtue that I ran!

What’s a nymph like me

to do with something that belongs to men?

It’s just I wasn’t in the mood.

And he didn’t care. It scared me.


The little goatleg boys can’t even talk,

but still they wait till they can smell you feel

like humping with a goatleg in the woods,

rolling and scratching and laughing — they can laugh! —

poor little hairycocks, I miss them.


When we were tired of that kind of thing

my sister nymphs and I would lie around

and talk, and tease, and stroke, and chase, and stretch

out panting for another talk, and sleep

in the warm shadows side by side

under the leaves, and all was as we pleased.


And then the mortal hunters of the deer,

the poachers, the deciduous shepherd-boys:

they’d stop and gape and stare with owly eyes,

not even hoping, even when I smiled...

New every spring, like daffodils, those boys.


But once for forty years I met one man

up on the sheep-cropped hills of Arcady.

I kissed his wrinkles, the ravines of time

I cannot enter, gazing in his eyes, whose dark

dimmed and deepened, seeing less always, till he died.

I came to his burial. Among the villagers

I walked behind his grey-haired wife.

She could have been Time’s wife, my grandmother.


And then there were my brothers of the streams,

O my river-lovers, with their silver tongues,

so sweet to thirst! the cool, prolonged delight

of a river moving in me, of his flow and flow and flow!

They send to my roots their kindness, even now,

and slowly I drink it from my mother’s hands.


So that was all I knew, until he came

hard, bright, burning, dry, intent:

one will, instead of wantings meeting:

no center but himself, the Sun. A god

is like that, I suppose; he has to be.

But then, I never asked to meet a god,

let alone make love with one. Why did he think

I wanted to? And when I told him no,

what harm did he think it did him?

It can’t be hard to find a girl agape

to love a big blond blue-eyed god.

He said so, said, “You’re all alike.”

He’s seen us all; he knows. So, why me?


I guess that maybe it was time for me

to give up going naked, and get dressed.

And it took a god to make me do it.

Mother never could. So I put on

my brown, ribbed stockings, and my underwear

of silky cambium, and my green dress.

And I became my clothing, being what I wear.


I run no more; the winds dance me.

My sister, seamstress, sovereign comes

up from the dark below the roots

to mend my clothes in April. And I stand

in my green patience in the winter rains.


He honors me, he says, to wear

my fingers turning brown and brittle, clenched

in the bright hair of his head. He sings.


My silence crowns the song.

Music copyright © 2007 by Christopher M. Wicks
Poem copyright © 1987 Ursula K. Le Guin

First published:
Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences
Capra, 1987.

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Updated Tuesday, 18-Jun-2019 10:14:42 EDT