Goblin Year

Work Type: Choral / Vocal, Classical

Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano and piano

Duration: 15 minutes

Goblin Year is a setting of three excerpts from Jack Womack’s noir novel Ambient, a work of blackest humor set in a bleak, brutal, dystopian America; “Goblin Year” is the handle given to the year in which everything fell apart.

There are two languages in “Ambient”: one, a compressed, clipped distillation of English, harsh and sharp, spoken by the majority of society; and another that’s almost Shakespearian, florid, lush, and allusive, spoken by Ambients, a community of radicals disfigured and deformed by industrial accidents who have been confined to ghettos.

The first movement, Visions Come, is a reverie by the protagonist Seamus O’Malley, who dreams fondly of a New York City overcome by the rising ocean, drowning sins in its wake.  Time Runs Birdwild is part of a sermon by an Ambient preacher, a call to violent revolution. World Long Dashed is the final paragraph of the novel, spoken after Seamus has, in victory, lost everything that would have made his triumph meaningful.


I. Visions come

Visions come sometimes to my sleeping eyes; once I beheld one of the city of Old New York, one hundred — maybe five — years hence, a Venice on stilts: cobbled docks extending out from the tenth floors of the most attractive skyscrapers; gondolas plying the gray currents, down the watery boulevards, in morning’s mist — the towers still habitable, high above, and the old horrors way down below the ocean. Some dreams fade like cheap dyes, bright at first wear and drab thereafter; unlike their dreamer, my dreams never ran.


II. Time runs birdwild

These are the days that change. Time runs birdwild, and none snare the shadows ascamp before them. No more. Paint shades pale, set passion aflaming, alight all eyes with will-o’-the-wisp and ringgold. Dance light over their walls, on their streets; deny no truth, suffer no fools. They cling to dead past like flies to paper. Each year skips no ho and they further yark and fetter themselves tight with their own dead bowels, encanted by the dread of time lostbegone. We seize time’s wings, to our own flight give rise. What’s done is done; what was, was. What is, is, will be, can be, might be, must be. Memory steals. Promise gives.


III. World Long Dashed

From autumn’s dark ash sprout spring’s green bones, everover, till time’s lovely end. Too quick adrift on dreadful shores, too soon cleft from mivida’s shape, I judged enow that my place pricked diamond sharp; therein I shall drop deceit’s chameleon garb, and still the nags that shade cold fortune. In my copesmate’s blue mirrors I vizzed loverall, friendall, fatherall, motherall; gone, gone, woeful and lostbegone. My soul slipped athwart other’s guile; bedded bideaway and left me daubed tarry. Heartcursed, this stew, this city, this hive of wasps quick to anger; this world long dashed from Godness’s paws.

– Jack Womack, Ambient

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