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MP3 Dillon Bustin - Willow of the Wilderness

Contemporary acoustic trio of guitar, bass, and mandolin, with smooth harmonies and traditional folk influences, featuring the nature poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

17 MP3 Songs
FOLK: Traditional Folk, FOLK: Modern Folk

Willow of the Wilderness

Emersonian Songs of Concord

lyrical verses by Ralph Waldo Emerson

adapted into song by Dillon Bustin

1. Goodbye Proud World 3:11
2. Each Day a Festival 3:00
3. Fable 0:43
4. Concord Hymn 2:10
5. Hamatreya/Earth Song 2:46
6. Berries and Honey and Love 2:40
7. Humble Bee 3:47
8. Patch of Meadow 0:38
9. My Brothers 3:25
10. Nantasket 1:52
11. Patient Stars 3:06
12. Musketaquid 1:44
13. Two Rivers 3:22
14. Brahma 2:19
15. The Woods 1:17
16. Old Age 2:47
17. Walden 3:03

Musketaquid Arts and Environment
Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts
Concord, Massachusetts

Emerson Umbrella, Inc., copyright 2003.

In his seminal essay Nature (1836) Ralph Waldo Emerson asked, concerning his generation, "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?" Seven generations later, I ask, "And why should we not enjoy an original relationship with Emerson and his writings?" Here are poems-and fragments of unfinished poems-that I''ve enjoyed for a long while, and I believe Emerson would endorse their release from printed books and archived manuscripts into the open air again. At Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts, we sing his verses at the seasonal celebrations of the Musketaquid program in arts and the environment.

Emerson began writing poetry at age nine, shortly after the death of his father. Before he tried being a teacher, or a minister, or a lecturer, he aspired to be a poet. As he once wrote to a friend, he wished to supply the choral hymns of a new age. Like all poets of the Romantic period, Emerson welcomed his lyrical verses being sung or at least recited aloud from memory, especially for public occasions.

As a singer who internalizes texts and composes melodies "by ear," I have memorized Emerson''s pieces as I may and remembered them as I will. Any excisions or ellipses or tinkerings with phrasing have been done for the sake of the music. Several of the poems have been adapted for extemporaneous group singing, with a passage repeated as a refrain. Readers who wish to know exactly how the words were written should consult the bibliographical notes inside. One hundred and fifty-six years after Emerson published Poems, his lyrics are not only in the idea stream of the public domain, they are sublimating into oral tradition. Many of his most striking stanzas were not published during his lifetime, yet he continues to become the bard he wished to be.
--Dillon Bustin, Executive Director
Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts

Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts is housed in the former Emerson School, a public high school built in tribute to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1929. With studios for individual artists; classrooms for visual art, craft, dance, and creative writing; a theater; and offices for other non-profit organizations, this arts center is indeed a cultural umbrella for Concord and the surrounding region. The Musketaquid program at Emerson Umbrella seeks to link discovery of art with passion for nature. Believing we can find our interconnection with the earth through the arts, Musketaquid provides opportunities to create and experience art while exploring and learning about the regional environment.

Before this area was known as Concord, the indigenous people called it Musketaquid, "the place where water flows through the grasses." Honoring the wisdom that names a place according to its nature, a group of local artists founded an arts-and-environment program and named it Musketaquid. In the truest sense of community, everyone is encouraged to participate-children and adults of all ages and skills, environmental groups, schools and businesses. While centered in Concord, Musketaquid extends to and welcomes the broader community. All proceeds from sales of Willow of the Wilderness will benefit our educational outreach efforts.

Willow of the Wilderness

Dillon Bustin: guitar and vocals
Ritt Henn: bass
Denny Williams: lead guitar
Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein, Michael Cicone: vocals
Grey Larsen sings bass on "Goodbye Proud World" and "Nantasket"
Eric Kilburn plays mandolin on "Two Rivers"

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Eric Kilburn
Wellspring Sound, Acton, Massachusetts
April 2002-March 2003

Carte visite portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson (photographer unknown, undated) provided courtesy of Special Collections, Concord Free Public Library. Front cover illustration, "East from Punkatasset Observatory," a lantern slide by Herbert Wendell Gleason (1903), hand-tinted by his wife Lulie Wadsworth Gleason, also provided courtesy of Special Collections, Concord Free Public Library.

Otter drawn for Musketaquid Arts and Environment by Jeannie Abbott. Photograph of Dillon Bustin by Pierre Chiha. Both images used by permission.


"A willow of the wilderness" is how Emerson described himself in the poem "Musketaquid," meaning, in part, that if he were a tree he would wish to be standing near the Concord River, yielding to breezes off the water. The items here are arranged roughly in chronological order, tracing Emerson''s poetry about the local landscape from the time he set up housekeeping in Concord during the 1830s until his creative powers faded away during the 1870s. In the following notes LOA refers to the Library of America''s volume of Emerson''s Collected Poems and Translations, edited by Harold Bloom and Paul Kane (1994). For biographical information I rely on Robert Richardson''s Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995), and Carlos Baker''s Emerson Among the Eccentrics (1996). All three are indispensable reference works. For complete song lyrics please visit the art center''s website, https://www.tradebit.com.

Goodbye Proud World. Condensed and adapted from "Good-Bye" in Poems (1847). After enduring the loss of his first wife, Ellen Tucker, in 1831 and resigning as minister of Boston''s Second Parish at the end of 1832, Emerson spent much of 1833 touring Europe and pondering his future. In 1834 he moved from Boston to Concord where, as a boy, he had frequently visited his grandmother. There he gathered his mother, an aunt, and a brother around him. Within a year he had remarried, to Lydia Jackson, and settled into his own house and his new hometown. "Good-Bye" is Emerson''s farewell at age 31 to high society and worldly ambition, the gospel testimony of a budding transcendentalist. [LOA, p. 30.]

Each Day a Festival. In this missive, intended for friends in the city, Emerson tries to explain the appeal of his home in the country. He invites the recipients to join him as he walks to Punkatasset Hill to await dawn over the Concord River. The eastward view he describes, photographed by Ralph Gleason in 1903, today encompasses the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. There are two untitled drafts of the poem in the manuscript notebooks of the 1840s. My song draws on both versions. A different blend of the two drafts was made by editor James Elliot Cabot for the Complete Works (Riverside Edition, 1884), where it is given the title "Sunrise." [LOA, p. 395; note pp. 612-613.]

Fable. With this recitation Emerson placed himself in the long line of purveyors of brief, enlightening animal stories, reaching back to Aesop. Verbatim from Poems. [LOA, p. 61.]

Concord Hymn. Adapted from "Hymn, Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument, April 19, 1836," included in Poems. According to Emerson''s son Edward, the dedication was originally planned for the sixtieth anniversary of the skirmish at North Bridge, but was postponed until July 4, 1837. On that holiday these verses were performed by a choir among whose singers was the young Henry Thoreau. In Selected Poems (1876), the title was shortened to "Concord Fight," and in Collected Works (Riverside Edition) changed again to "Concord Hymn." [LOA, p. 125; note p. 596.]

Hamatreya/Earth Song. This text was directly influenced by Emerson''s reading of the recently translated Vishnu Purana of ancient India, where plow agriculture was developed. Its timeless truths transferred quite well to the farmers of Concord, whose technology and attitudes were still remarkably similar to those of their prototypes after 3,000 years following oxen up and down the furrows. Condensed and adapted from "Hamatreya" in Poems. [LOA, p. 28; notes p. 591.]

Berries and Honey and Love. Here Emerson examines his feelings about the coming of the railroad to Concord in 1844. He concludes that all endeavors are a mixture of bad and good effects, whether grand enterprises like the laying of tracks linking Massachusetts to Quebec, or idle distractions like music parties of the Irish laborers. So the best response is to accept human nature and heartily, heartily sing. Condensed and adapted from an untitled draft in the 1840s notebooks. [LOA, p. 405.]

Humble Bee. This piece alludes to Emerson''s younger brothers Edward and Charles, who sailed separately to the Caribbean in 1830-1831 in hopes of relief from tuberculosis. With his brothers'' experiences in mind, Waldo allows the garden to lift his mood, where the bumblebee substitutes for all the tropics. Condensed and adapted from "The Humble-Bee," written about 1838 and included in Poems. [LOA, pp. 31-33.]

Patch of Meadow/My Brothers. I am reminded of the first piece whenever I encounter joggers making their preoccupied way through Estabrook Woods. Recitation condensed from an untitled draft of the 1850s. [LOA, pp. 421-422.] Song condensed from "Dirge" in Poems. Edward died in Puerto Rico in 1834, about the time Waldo was moving to Concord. Charles, back from southern seas, died in 1836 while visiting a fourth brother, William, in New York. Waldo relives his grief at the deaths of his beloved brothers in this elegy, in which a pine warbler observes, "You cannot unlock your heart, the key is gone with them." [LOA, pp. 115-116; see also pp. 383-384 and notes p. 610.]

Nantasket. Adapted from "Nantasket," a manuscript draft dated 1841, in which Emerson marvels at what a distinct habitat is the seashore in Hull when compared with the river valleys in Concord. As a precursor of contemporary ecologists, he realizes he cannot reconstitute an entire environment by carrying natural souvenirs from one place to the other. [LOA, p. 376; note p. 610.]

Patient Stars. Compiled from verse fragments near each other in the manuscript notebooks of the 1850s, revealing in exquisite words Emerson at his most stoical. In Collected Works (Centennial Edition, 1904) Edward Emerson adds the "Teach me your mood..." verse to the quatrain "May." [LOA, pp. 430, 431, 429; note p. 619.]

Musketaquid/Two Rivers. Recitation condensed from "Musketaquid" in Poems. [LOA, p. 113-115; note p. 596.] Song condensed and adapted from "Two Rivers" in May-Day and Other Pieces (1867). [LOA, pp. 188-189; notes p. 597.] These pieces quest through Algonquian, pagan Greek, Hindu, and Christian sensibilities for Emerson''s conception of the Over-Soul. Regarding thirst for water as a metaphor of yearning for awareness of God, see Gospel of John, 4: 6-14, as well as Judaic antecedents Amos 8: 9-13 and Psalms 63: 1-11.

Brahma. Verbatim from May Day and Other Pieces. [LOA, p. 159.] Like "Hamatreya," this poem is derived from the Vishnu Purana. The verses describe not so much Brahma, or the Creator, one of the Hindu trinity along with Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, but rather Brahman, the ultimate reality encompassing all three of the lesser complementary gods. The mind-bending mysticism of "Brahma," acknowledged as one of Emerson''s greatest poems, was subject to dozens of parodies soon after it first appeared in 1857.

The Woods/Old Age. This medley embraces some of the earliest and latest of Emerson''s nature writing. The opening recitation is verbatim from "Woods: A Prose Sonnet" in poetry notebooks of the 1830s. [LOA, p. 366.] The song is built of fragments, most found near a couplet titled "Old Age" in manuscripts of the 1860s. A few early fragments show the humor and idealism of the 1830s, while the later ones betray Emerson''s genial confusion and frustration as he was afflicted with the beginnings of dementia in the 1860s. [LOA, pp. 446, 449, 445, 441, 370, 371; note p. 609.]

Walden. A summation of Emerson''s stance toward Concord, ending where be began, exhorting city-dwellers to "achieve our peace who can." Condensed from an untitled draft in the poetry notebooks of the 1860s. In Collected Works (Riverside Edition), James Elliot Cabot gives the title "Walden." In Collected Works (Centennial Edition), Edward Emerson includes the first eight verses, as I do, but appends a separate manuscript text as an alternate ending. [LOA, pp. 461-462; note p. 620.]

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