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Songs from "A Book of Nonsense" by Mervyn Peake

3 members needed
SATB, div. and piano
A new work to be composed by Jonathan Posthuma
Difficulty: 3 · Medium
Length: 18 minutes
Releases on Mar. 15th 2022
Must be funded by Jan. 15th 2022
$250 / ensemble

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This project will include…

PDF score
9-month premiere window
Score guarantee


This setting of eight "nonsense" poems by British poet Mervyn Peake will be something of a cross between Brahms "Liebeslieder Walzer" and Whitacre's "Animal Crackers." They are mock serious, surprisingly poignant, and fun! Several of the movements intermittently over the years, but none have been premiered. This new collection will be edited for a medium difficulty. Appropriate for advanced high school or college level choirs. Perusal score of in-progress sketches available by request. Member choirs may program excerpts of the full set of songs.


I Cannot Give the Reasons

I cannot give the reasons,
I only sing the tunes:
the sadness of the seasons
the madness of the moons.

I cannot be didactic
or lucid, but I can
be quite obscure and practi-
ally marzipan

In gorgery and gushness
and all that’s squishified.
My voice has all the lushness
Of what I can’t abide
And yet it has a beauty
most proud and terrible
denied to those whose duty
is to be cerebral.

Among the antlered mountains
I make my viscous way
and watch the sepia fountains
throw up their lime-green spray.

O Little Fly

O little fly! Delightful fly!
Perch on my wrist again:
Then rub your legs and dry your eye,
And climb my fist again:

For surely here, the atmosphere
Is somehow right and good for you.
I love you most when as your host
I’m in the mood for you.

Of Pygmies, Palms and Pirates

Of pygmies, palms and pirates,
Of islands and lagoons,
Of blood-bespotted frigates,
Or crags and octoroons,
Of whales and broken bottles,
Of quicksands cold and grey,
Of ullages and dottles,
I have no more to say.

Of barley, corn and furrows,
Of farms and turf that heaves
Above such ghostly burrows
As twitch on summer eves
Of fallow-land and pasture,
Of skies both pink and grey,
I made a statement last year
And have no more to say.


She stared at him as hard as she
Could stare, but not a single blush
Suffused his face like dawn at sea
Or roses in a bush –

For crocodiles are very slow
At taking hints because their hide’s
So thick it never feels de trop,
And tender like a bride’s.

The Trouble with Geraniums

The trouble with geraniums
is that they’re much too red!
The trouble with my toast is that
it’s far too full of bread.

The trouble with a diamond
is that it’s much too bright.
The same applies to fish and stars
and the electric light.

The trouble with the stars I see
lies in the way they fly.
The trouble with myself is all
self-centered in the eye.

The trouble with my looking-glass
is that it shows me, me:
there’s trouble in all sorts of things
where it should never be.

An Angry Cactus Does No Good

An angry cactus does no good
To flowers in a pensive mood.
It riles them something horrible—
O well away, keep well away,
The whole affair’s deplorable,
As one might say.

But take the humble spinach-flower
That lifts its whiskers to the shower
As t’were a kind of benison
O welady, keep well away.
It quotes the work of Tennyson
The livelong day.

How Fly the Birds of Heaven

How fly the birds of heaven save by their wings?
How tread the stags, those huge and hairy things,
Save by their feet? How do the fishes turn
In their wet purlieus, where the mermaids yearn,
Save by their tails? How does the plantain sprout,
Save by that root it cannot do without.
I hope that I have made my meaning clear…

Little Spider

Little spider
spiding sadly
in the webly
light of leaves!
Why decide a
spide’s mentadly
when its hebly
full of grieves?

Little spider
legged and lonely
in the bony
way of thieves
Where’s the fly-da
On the phonebly?

About Jonathan Posthuma

Two Dickinson Poems
Heirloom Hallelujah!
Klokje Klinkt, Vogel Zingt
Jonathan Posthuma (b. 1989) is a composer based in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a growing catalogue of choral and vocal works. He graduated from Dordt University with a degree in Secondary Music Education: Choral and Instrumental, then received a Master’s in Music Composition from University of Wisconsin – Madison. As a singer, he has performed with several choirs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including VocalEssence, mPLS, Aliro Voices, Kantorei, and the Green Lake Festival Chorus, all of which have premiered several of his choral works in recent years.

Other projects by Jonathan