Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Ursula Wood

Letter No.: 
Midnight - Tuesday [14 June 1938]

Atlantic Hamburg
An der Alster 73-79

My dear

I meant to send you a picture postcard as you told me to - but after all I want to write a letter.
I’ve just come from an opera by an Italian composer on the “Scarlet Letter”. All very gloomy, but I find that I do not thrill when young women are branded with ‘A’.1
How sweet of you to send the books. The Penguin [is] just what I wanted. I am getting hold of Donne - at first he seems too artificial and quirky for a love poet. My ideal of love poetry are the 2 lines from the ballad
“I’d rather rest
on my true love’s breast
than any other where”2

(simple, sensuous & passionate?3). By the way didn’t Donne write some S.S. & P.4 words which do not appear in this collection

“Ah dear heart why do you rise
The light that shines comes from your eyes
The day breaks not, it is my heart
To think that you & I must part
O stay or else my hopes will die
And perish in their infancy”5

By the way I copied out practically the whole of Epithalamium before I left England.
When do we meet again?


1.  VW had been to see The Scarlet Letter, an opera by the American composer Vittorio Giannini based on the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The opera was first produced in Hamburg and had had its first performance two weeks earlier on 2 June.
2. Lines from v. 3 of the folksong 'Searching for lambs'.
3.  A phrase from Milton's Tractate on Education: '[Rhetoric] to which poetry would be made subsequent, or indeed rather precedent, as being less subtle and fine, but more simple, sensuous and passionate.'
4.  i.e. simple, sensuous and passionate.
5.  The words of a madrigal by Orlando Gibbons. The Donne version is "Stay, O sweet, and do not use" etc


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/11, ff.13-15
General notes: 

Date from postmark, posted in Hamburg.

Cobbe 293
Original database number: