Click on any phrase to play the video at that point.Close
I suppose I owe you an explanation. I've been working on a project for the last six years adapting children's poetry to music. And that's a poem by Charles Edward Carryl, who was a stockbroker in New York City for 45 years, but in the evenings, he wrote nonsense for his children. And this book was one of the most famous books in America for about 35 years. "The Sleepy Giant," which is the song that I just sang, is one of his poems. Now, we're going to do other poems for you, and here's a preview of some of the poets. This is Rachel Field, Robert Graves -- a very young Robert Graves -- Christina Rossetti. Ghosts, right? Have nothing to say to us, obsolete, gone -- not so. What I really enjoyed about this project is reviving these people's words. Taking them off the dead, flat pages. Bringing them to life, bringing them to light. So, what we're going to do next is a poem that was written by Nathalia Crane. Nathalia Crane was a little girl from Brooklyn. When she was 10 years old in 1927, she published her first book of poems called "The Janitor's Boy." Here she is. And here's her poem.
The next poem is "If No One Ever Marries Me." It was written by Laurence Alma-Tadema. She was the daughter of a very, very famous Dutch painter who had made his fame in England. He went there after the death of his wife of smallpox and brought his two young children. One was his daughter, Laurence. She wrote this poem when she was 18 years old in 1888, and I look at it as kind of a very sweet feminist manifesto tinged with a little bit of defiance and a little bit of resignation and regret.
I became very curious about the poets after spending six years with them, and started to research their lives, and then decided to write a book about it. And the burning question about Alma-Tadema was: Did she marry? And the answer was no, which I found in the London Times archive. She died alone in 1940 in the company of her books and her dear friends. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a saintly man. He became a Jesuit. He converted from his Anglican faith. He was moved to by the Tractarian Movement, the Oxford Movement, otherwise known as -- and he became a Jesuit priest. He burned all his poetry at the age of 24 and then did not write another poem for at least seven years because he couldn't rectify the life of a poet with the life of a priest. He died typhoid fever at the age of 44, I believe, 43 or 44. At the time, he was teaching classics at Trinity College in Dublin. A few years before he died, after he had resumed writing poetry, but in secret, he confessed to a friend in a letter that I found when I was doing my research: "I've written a verse. It is to explain death to a child, and it deserves a piece of plain-song music." And my blood froze when I read that because I had written the plain-song music 130 years after he'd written the letter. And the poem is called, "Spring and Fall."
I'd like to thank everybody, all the scientists, the philosophers, the architects, the inventors, the biologists, the botanists, the artists ... everyone that blew my mind this week. Thank you. (Applause)
You can share this video by copying this HTML to your clipboard and pasting into your blog or web page.
need to get the latest Flash player.
Got an idea, question, or debate inspired by this talk? Start a TED Conversation.
Natalie Merchant sings from her new album, Leave Your Sleep. Lyrics from near-forgotten 19th-century poetry pair with her unmistakable voice for a performance that brought the TED audience to its feet.
Natalie Merchant's career spans three decades -- as the leader of 10,000 Maniacs and in her own solo work -- of making warmly personal music. Full bio »