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Shared Ground

author of text

‘I first came across George Herbert’s poetry in The Albatross Book of Verse, a copy of which had been given to my mother in Darjeeling on her 18th birthday. I requisitioned it and took it with me to my boarding school in Dehradun, where I dipped into it from time to time. I liked Herbert’s poems well enough, but was more taken at the time by his wordplay. It was some years later, when doing my English A-level at Tonbridge School that I came across him again: a selection of his poetry was one of our set texts. I felt a great affinity for Herbert—for his clarity, his depth of feeling, his spiritual struggles, his delight in the pleasures of nature and music, his wit, his strange juxtapositions, his decorous colloquiality. Indeed, though I am neither Christian nor particularly religious, he is still among my favourite poets.

‘When, more than three decades later, I heard that his house near Salisbury was on sale, I felt I had to visit it. I had no intention of buying it; I simply wanted to see the place where such poems as “Love” and “Virtue” had been written. I saw the house, felt its atmosphere, and—though I could not really afford to—made a bid for it. It struck me that had the house belonged to Donne or Milton or some other more overtly forceful personality, I would not have been able to live there. But Herbert, for all his depth and richness, is a clear writer and a tactful spirit. He might influence me but would not wish to wrest me from myself.

‘I bought the house in 2003. The garden runs down to the river Nadder, and the wood and water-meadows beyond form part of the grounds. At the beginning I felt his presence hourly, both within the house and outside. As time passed, I began to think of it as being somewhat more my own, but still, indefinably, shared.

‘Early in 2007, while I was in Delhi but thinking of Salisbury, I wrote the six poems of Shared Ground. Though the mood and spirit of these verses are my own, they are formally modelled on poems by Herbert: “Lost” on “Paradise”; “Oak” on “Easter-Wings”; “And” on “Hope”; “Host” on “Love III”; “Flash” on “Virtue” and “This” on “Prayer I”—some of the loveliest of his poems, and among my favourites.

‘The texts were set to music by Alec Roth while he was staying at the house during my absence in Delhi. The spirit of the place found its way into the music too, and in addition to setting the words for double choir, the composer wrote a set of dance-like pieces for solo violin, each inspired by one of the five bridges in the grounds. The two works, Shared Ground and Ponticelli (“little bridges”), are designed so that they can be performed separately or together. In the combined form, the six pieces of Shared Ground are linked by the five bridges of Ponticelli.’

Shared Ground and Ponticelli were commissioned jointly by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals with funds provided by Arts Council England and the PRS Foundation. The first performances were given by Ex Cathedra conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, and Philippe Honoré (violin) at Wilton Church, 6 June; Holy Trinity Church, Chelsea, 21 June; and Lichfield Cathedral, 10 July, 2007.

from notes by Vikram Seth © 2011


Roth: Shared Ground & other works
SIGCD270Download only


Movement 1: Lost  Lost in a world of dust and spray
Track 1 on SIGCD270 CD2 [3'50] Download only
Movement 2: Oak  Last night a storm raged round the bare oak tree
Track 2 on SIGCD270 CD2 [4'32] Download only
Movement 3: And  And then I woke
Track 3 on SIGCD270 CD2 [3'56] Download only
Movement 4: Host  I heard it was for sale and thought I'd go
Track 4 on SIGCD270 CD2 [3'44] Download only
Movement 5: Flash  Bright bird, whose swift blue wings gleam out
Track 5 on SIGCD270 CD2 [2'43] Download only
Movement 6: This  Hearts-ease, hearts-bane
Track 6 on SIGCD270 CD2 [4'46] Download only

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