2022; dur: 10'; Mixed choir; Score at Wise Music Classical
The lyrics and their background
Three fundamental rivers, all being barriers between life and death, suffering and rebirth, is the starting point for Thökk will weep. Human sorrow and longing for consolidation when facing one’s own or one’s loved ones crossing over is reflected in religious and philosophical texts as well as ancient myths. The rivers Gjöll, Vaitaraṇī and Styx, never unite in history, nor do they in Thökk will weep, but their role is in many ways similar, and one can imagine a possible influence. Purposely not highlighting their similarities, I have chosen three different entrances, three very different sources that give divergent roles in the composition. The aspect of unresolved destined death as shown in the old Norse tale of Baldr meets the words of Pythagoras’ invitation to reconciliation, the latter shared with Hindu religion’s cycle of death and rebirth. However, faced with the River, a righteous state of mind and body is needed in order to avoid its horrors. I let the Hindi scriptures voice the latter here.
The three text sources and the lyrics used in the piece:
- In old Norse mythology, the river Gjöll («noisy») flows at the gates of the underworld, Hel, ruled over by the mighty and frightening female figure with the same name, Hel. The river has a bridge, Gjallarbrú, which the dead must cross. I have used text from the famous tale of Baldr’s death, as written in the old Norse scripture Gylfaginning. Baldr («brave») was the invulnerable and much loved male god, who was tricked to death by the jealous «Lucifer» of Norse mythology, Loki. Baldr’s brother crosses Gjallarbrú in an attempt to retrieve the fallen god from the land of the dead. The bridge’s female guardian Mó∂gu∂r asking: «Why ridest thou hither on Hel-way»? Meeting Hel on the other side, she shows some sympathy, suggesting Baldr’s return «if all things in the world, living and dead, weep for him», «but he shall remain with Hel if any gainsay it or will not weep.» Upon this, everyone cries for Baldr, except the old woman Thökk who will not weep. It seems that it is the shape shifter Loki who has taken her appearance.
Módgudr: Why ridest thou hither on Hel-way? // Hví ríðr þú hér á helveg?
Hel: If all things in the world, living and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir; but he shall remain with Hel if any gainsay it or will not weep. // Ok ef allir hlutir í heiminum, kykvir ok dauðir, gráta hann, þá skal hann fara til ása aftr, en haldast með Helju, ef nakkvarr mælir við eða vill eigi gráta.
Thökk: Thökk will weep | waterless tears
For Baldr’s bale-fare;
Living or dead, | I loved not the churl’s son; Let Hel hold to that she hath!
Þökk mun gráta | þurrum tárum
kyks né dauðs | nautk-a ek Karls sonar, haldi Hel því, er hefir
- In Hindu religious texts the Vaitaraṇī River lies between the earth and the infernal realm of Yama, the powerful god of death and justice. For the sinful, this river is the most fearsome pit of blood and suffering and but must be crossed in order for the soul to move on. In the scripture Garuda Purana, Keśava (Vishnu) explains how dreadful the Vaitaraṇī River can be. My lyrics contains a few selected lines from the elaborate text:
There is no shade of trees
Lakes filled with blood
No water is to be seen Burnt by fire
Torn by thorns
Stung venomous serpents Rocks difficult to climb
Treads on razor-edges
In the awful black darkness
Showers of charcoal
Showers of stones and thunderbolts
Showers of weapons
Showers of boiling water
In one place a plain of hot sand
In another a mound of embers
In another a great cloud of smoke
In one place he stumbles in the darkness
Heaps of bones, mud of flesh and blood
This river, overspread with flames and smoke
- In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV, Numa, the second king of Rome, celebrated for his wisdom and piety, encounters Pythagoras to learn about the nature of the universe. Pythagoras encourages to accept the flux that for ever transforms us, and give less attention to earthly goods such as meat, prescribing a doctrine of metempsychosis (transmigration of the soul after death into a new form). One should not fear Styx – name of both the river that forms the border between earth and the underworld, and its goddess. The lyrics derived from the words of Pythagoras’ teaching are meant to function as a consolation in the composition.
Since I am launched into the open sea and I have given my full sails to the wind, nothing in all world remains unchanged.
All things are in flux, all shapes receive a changing nature.
Time itself glides on with constant motion.
Neither river nor the fleeting hour can stop its constant course.
As each wave drives on a wave, so the moments fly, and others follow, so they are renewed.
The moment which moved on before is past, now exists in Time. Every one comes, goes, and is replaced.
O sad humanity! Why do you fear
alarms of icy death, afraid of Styx,
of moving shadows and empty names— of subjects harped on by the poets’ tales, the fabled perils of a fancied life?
Souls are exempt from power of death.
When they have left their first corporeal home, they always find new homes.
Maja S. K. Ratkje, Svartskog, March 2022