Commissioned by Dulwich College, De Profundis (Night Raid) draws attention, in these troubled times, to the calamity and suffering which war brings in its dreadful wake. Dr Joseph Spence, Master of Dulwich College, has fashioned a spare text, inspired by former pupil, Raymond Chandler's reflections on his trench experience, evoking the horror of war. To contrast with Dr Spence's stark poetry I have given the upper voices soft intertwining lines with the words, 'In memoriam; De Profundis clamavi ad te, Domine'. The presence of these 'celestial' sounds hovering above the lower voices are there to project hope and continuity in the face of adversity. The altos, tenors and basses are in opposition, earthbound, relentlessly moving on, faced with the task ahead. One of untold horror. De Profundis closes with the 'soldiers' whispered observation; that the rats are their inexorable companions. The celestial voices fade as the soldiers trudge onwards . . .
© Cecilia McDowall 2017
De Profundis (Night Raid)
In memory of the Fallen of Dulwich College, who courageously gave their lives in the service of their country during the First and Second World Wars
'The world must be made safe for democracy.
Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.'
President Woodrow Wilson, 2 April 1917
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.
In the deep'ning dusk of a starless night
They huddle in the pit of a watery trench.
They light a candle and see the rats.
Time to hunker down, boys,
Time for a nip and a smoke,
Before we move on.
Against the emptiness of the night
A shell whines by, slowly and intimately.
They listen, with a cold exhausted passion,
As shell upon intimate shell whines by
Until a deafening screech tells them it is over.
Time to move on, boys,
Musn't stay too long in one place.
Musn't overstay our welcome.
The candle is snuffed out.
They trudge on with quiet resignation,
Fearing the folly and futility of the flight.
The rats stir and scuttle after.
Joseph Spence and Psalm 130:1