Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Gustav Holst

Letter No.: 
VWL128
[?About December 1900]

My dear V.

You'll think me a very “destructive” critic - as I have scratched out most of your lines.1
I think the whole scheme of the verses is bad:
(1) I should like it to be sung by the girl her self not let that old heavy father give tongue again - would not this be very effective if she sang it softly as if to herself - then stopping where the song breaks off and asking her father.
Now with regard to the scheme itself - you must not make the darkness so “tief-sinnig” the “Land of eternal night” means death and nothing else - you must (as far as the legend itself is concerned) treat the darkness as simply a curious natural phenomenon which had the results which you are about to relate.  Secondly you must make the possession of the lamp much more important.
Thirdly you must quite remodel the part where it says he couldn’t get into the garden with his lamp - making it more emphatic - why not say that he met a porter* at the gate who said “throw away your lamp you will have no use for it in the garden - unless you throw away your lamp you may not enter.”
Now about the style - it is much too loose - do be more careful to say just what you mean and no more.  If I were in your place I should read Malory and old ballads and only use words that were used by them.  If you use odd words like ‘hight’ (by the way I can’t make sense of that line) you must make the rest correspond in style; otherwise it will read like Corder’s translation of Wagner. 
E.g.
why say “all safe” when you might say “safe” and many other cases.  I like your tune extraordinarily (I  obeyed you implicitly) except the third line (“a lamp he carried”) The first line is I suppose in the Phrygian mode, the 2nd and third certainly modulate and imply harmonies.
(By the way to hark back I don’t like “no ending hath that story” it implies not that the end is torn out but that it goes on for ever.)
I don’t quite approve of your martial bit - in itself it is very nice - but surely while the stage issue is vague, you might put in a lot of little bits as she looked at the various legends - not only one - and even then it is a kind of miniature painting which is only suitable in a comic opera (E.g. Meistersinger Act I, Eva’s remarks about the three Davids; or David’s recitation of the various ‘tones’).
I like all the music and voice parts very much.  The leading up to the legend is very good - the last two bars are quite beautiful.
I am keeping the music to show to N.G.2  when he comes back.  H. Jones3 is gone back to Berlin.
There
Yrs

R.V.W.

N.B. (I mean P.S.)  Thanks very much for the shortbread which I hope refers allegorically to your short further absence.4                               

*Not a railway porter.


1. Holst was writing his own libretti for his operas The Youth's Choice and Sita.
2. Nicholas Gatty
3. Howard Jones
4. See Adeline VW’s letter to Holst thanking him for the shortbread - VWL127.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 158, f.34-39
General notes: 

 Pencilled date of 1901 at head of letter, in another hand.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 25; Heirs and Rebels, Letter V
Original database number: 
0012xc