Félise, 1878

This strange and slightly drunk waltz by Theophilus Marzials feels apt for the Swinburne poem from which he took the words – ‘Félise’, from Poems and Ballads, First Series (1866). It’s a poem about the ending of an affair, though while the narrator originally loved Félise (and she was not in love with him), he has since fallen out of love, while she has discovered the fondness for him that he once craved. The poem appears to curl around its subject, explaining and examining itself (though perhaps it’s a voice alone), before signing off with a snap. The imagery is, at various times, blasphemous, hot, cold, and erotic.

Marzials has been sympathetic to this movement, although he has taken only two of the 59 verses, which form a song within the poem, composed for (and out of?) the narrator’s ex-lover (‘What was the song I made of you?’). From this poetic fragment Marzials has created a similarly fragmentary song. It has the effect of something heard in passing. It fades in and out. It totters, turns, tiptoes, and swoons back and forth, and doesn’t quite know where it’s going, except round and round. Perhaps it’s affection, but it’s restless and unsatisfied. The words, which blend lips, colours, and months, jump along the notes, sometimes in step, other times not. And it ends arbitrarily, with a sense that it might get up again for another turn. The words, are in any case, odd and transgressive:

O lips that mine have grown into

Like April’s kissing May,

O fervent eyelids letting through

Those eyes the greenest of things blue

The bluest of things grey,


If you were I and I were you,

How could I love you, say?

How could the roseleaf love the rue,

The day love nightfall and her dew.

Though night may love the day?

Marzials’s composition has a decadent sense. Perhaps there’s a whiff of too much drink, or too much chlorodyne, to which Marzials was sometimes addicted. As I mentioned earlier, in the posting of his much more robust and popular Ask Nothing More, Marzials was an eccentric and an aesthete in the truest sense.

This setting shows up the limitations of the software I am using. Although it does a very good job at re-creating the music, the mood – especially from the vocal part – should be much more legato, that is, connected and flowing.

London: Stanley, Lucas & Co, 1878

Categories: music

Tags: , , , , ,

2 replies


  1. Original score for Marzials’s ‘Ask Nothing More’ (1883) | Verseandmusic.com
  2. A Swinburne song catalogue, a work in progress, and two Holy Grails | Verseandmusic.com

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