Inscapes: II Inversnaid


The sprightly second movement of Inscapes, set to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Inversnaid.”  A day’s sojourn at Loch Lomond made a deep impression on the poet, whose inspired response culminated in the phrases that have endeared him to generations of environmentalists: “O let them be left, wildness and wet; long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.” Water in its many forms — rolling streams, cascading falls, and deep pools — is depicted musically throughout this short movement, with continual activity in all of the vocal parts, and much antiphonal interplay between the choirs.


A licensed copy is required for each member performing.


Notes on the poem

Hopkins wrote “Inversnaid” (pronounced “inver-snade”) after a visit to Loch Lomond.  In his journal he commented thus: “the day was dark and partly hid the lake, but it did not altogether disfigure it but gave a pensive and solemn beauty which left a deep impression on me.  I landed at Inversnaid for a few hours….”  One may assume that he began composing his poem at Inversnaid, a village on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, famous for its waterfalls that pour into the lake.  (“Inversnaid” is a shortened form of the Scottish Gaelic “Inbhir Snáthaid” which means “the mouth of the needle stream.”)

This poem has gained Hopkins many fans from the ranks of environmentalists.  The Industrial Revolution had already wrought considerable environmental degradation by Hopkins’ lifetime.  In fact, his early death is considered to have been caused in part by the terrible air quality Dublin, his final post.  Water pollution was also a huge problem, and many natural waterways had been altered for the purposes of powering mills, with whatever scarring of the landscape and felling of trees such projects would have necessitated.  One hears the cry from the heart of a sincere lover of nature in the poem’s final lines:

O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Notes on the piece

Learning of Hopkins’ solemn mood after visiting Loch Lomond, I was surprised at the poem’s complete lack of stillness and quietude.  Perhaps the lake itself inspired him in the first place, but his immediate stimulus once he got down to writing was the falls of Inversnaid.  Whatever the case, the poem is sprightly, even elfin – perfectly suited for a Scherzo – and this mood is reflected in the woodwind-esque opening theme.  The phrases move continuously downward, suggestive of water in a many-layered waterfall.  Harmonically, flattened sevenths and sixths – and later, flattened seconds and fifths – contribute toward a whole-tone sense of mystery and unresolved questions.  Nature is wild, not tamed.

In the second stanza, a new theme – suggestive of the foam that floats on the water – is introduced, which the basses echo in lower octaves, adding a dark, even sinister, quality to the proceedings.  After a third stanza of sheer wordplay, the final stanza marks a return to the opening theme, now tripping lightly atop the basses’ deep, quiet chord.  One may imagine in the final, heightening phrases both the splashing of water and the raising of alarm at the vulnerability of all wild things and places.

II.  Inversnaid

This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A wíndpuff-bónnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a póol so pítchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Additional information


SATB double choir

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