The Cool Web

The Cool Web

The-Cool-Web-Bath-Abbey-WW1-Poster The Cool Web takes the form of a series of meditations on the plight of a poet faced with the task of articulating the most intense and terrifying of human experiences. The poetry selected was almost all written around or during the time of Graves’ service at the front, and has the vivid immediacy of a brilliant, very young man writing about his day to day experience of combat. The Oratorio is framed by his later poem, The Cool Web, which describes how we use language to contain the shock of reality in order to avoid the intensity of it driving us mad.

excerpt from The Cool Web

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by

The first section evokes the peacefulness of the English countryside before the outbreak of war. The English wood is a central image of love of country, innocence and safety, and also suggests a contrast to the sacred wood which figures so heavily in Greek mythology and in Graves’ imagination, where blood sacrifice of young men to the old gods takes place. The children’s song, Allie, call the birds in, is overtaken by the ominous swooping down of the owls that heralds the coming of war. The section ends with the flight of the birds from the wood and human beings lying awake in terrified anticipation of disaster.

The second section, about the experience of combat, begins with the romantic vision of war as an adventure with comrades in arms, and ends in the terror of the Somme.

The third section deals with the shellshock Graves experienced after his near-fatal injuries. The fourth section returns to the peace of the English wood, in which he senses the presence of his dead friend, and is in some sense reconciled to the losses of the war.

Writers: Jools Scott and Sue Curtis

Jools Scott (composer) and Sue Curtis (compiler) have been in partnership for six years, during which time they have written two operas, Vice and Demon Lover, a children’s musical, Goose, and the Oratorio. Jools has written the music for three short films, as well as numerous other projects, and is just about to embark on his first feature film. Sue has just completed her first screenplay, Nocturne.

more about Robert Graves…
choosing the poems for the Oratorio…
meet the Performers…