Charles Ives — “The Cage” and “Walking”

My little aside about the hamster in the cage not having learned to play the calliope reminded me of this 1906 song by Charles Ives:

The Cage

A leopard went around his cage
from one side back to the other side;
he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
A boy who had been there three hours
began to wonder, “Is life anything like that?”

Not a spiritual realization, but maybe an atonal precursor, since discovering how much life is like that — how much time we spend pacing our cages waiting to be thrown meat — may ultimately spur us on to seek a better way…

Charles Ives could write better (and more life-affirming) songs. Here’s a good one:

Walking

A big October morning,
the village church-bells,
the road along the ridge,
the chestnut burr and sumach,
the hills above the bridge
with autumn colors glow.
Now we strike a steady gait,
walking towards the future,
letting past and present wait,
we push on in the sun,
Now hark! Something bids us pause…
(down the valley, a church, a funeral going on.)
(up the valley, a roadhouse, a dance going on.)
But we keep on a-walking,
’tis yet not noon-day,
the road still calls us onward,
today we do not choose to die
or to dance, but to live and walk.

As a teen, I borrowed the music from the Donnell or Lincoln Center library and taped it (shhh!). I always loved the part “today we do not choose to die or to dance, but to live and walk.” Without knowing it, I was being led toward the middle path.

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