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“A Silver Stream of Melody”: Rosa Newmarch’s Poems of Love and Music
by Jean L. Kreiling

hile British poet Rosa Newmarch (1857-1940) may rank among the most frequently published authors of her time, her voluminous writings consist mostly of music criticism, music history, program notes for concerts, and translations of song and opera texts. Newmarch’s modest output of poetry—just two published volumes—also attests to her involvement with music, and reflects both the writer’s versatility and a variety of intersections between music and poetry. Both Horae Amoris: Songs and Sonnets (1903) and Songs to a Singer, and Other Verses (1906) feature frequent allusions to singing, instruments, and birdsong, and thirteen of the poems from the latter volume are fragments of a libretto meant to be set as a “dramatic symphony.” Within the sonnet form and other traditional patterns of rhyme and meter, Newmarch most often explores themes of love and loss, their nuances linked to the natural world and to traditional stories as well as to music. Neither Newmarch’s creative talents nor her skill at nonfiction won her lasting fame among the general public, but her achievements in both areas are significant. At a time when participation in the world of classical music was still relatively challenging for women, Newmarch wielded considerable influence in the formation of musical tastes, introducing the British public to the music of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Sibelius, and others. And though her poetry most likely drew a far smaller audience than her program notes, the two published collections of poems represent a thoughtful and imaginative contribution to the literature of her time. Newmarch’s life story reveals an exceptional level of diligence and productivity, and her poetry offers a glimpse of the hard-working scholar’s creative side and her understanding of the human condition.


Rosa Harriet Jeaffreson was born in Leamington Spa (95 miles northwest of London) on December 18, 1857. Her father Samuel was a doctor; her mother Sophia, daughter of playwright James Kenney, boasted friendships with literary figures including essayist Charles Lamb (a great-uncle), poet Samuel Rogers, and dramatist and historian Prosper Merimée. Rosa thus grew up in a literary household, and “may well have had greater familiarity with publishing and professional writing than most young Victorian women” (Maynard 165). Music was also part of Rosa’s early environment: in middle age, she asserted that she could not remember when she was not “intensely sensitive to music” (M. 225). She recalled that when she was a small child, she would lie in bed “with the nursery door open [and] would catch fragments of the music going on in the drawing-room , and even then . . . had a clear feeling for style and knew when the performers passed from Bach to Mozart, or from Chopin to Schumann” (M. 225). One of her older sisters studied voice (earning a diploma from the Royal Academy of Music), the other, piano; Rosa herself attended concerts frequently and “kept in touch with music by practicing the piano diligently” (M. 225). But Rosa’s involvement with the creative arts ranged still further: she studied painting for two years at the Heatherly School of Art in London. Soon concluding that the visual arts were “not her natural inclination” (M. 225), Newmarch turned to literary endeavors, first writing pieces for a provincial newspaper.

In 1883, Rosa married Henry Charles Newmarch, a surveyor and estate agent; the couple had a son in 1885 and a daughter in 1888. Within five years of their wedding, Rosa had embarked on a serious literary career, beginning with translations and soon producing original biographies, reviews of novels, and music criticism. By 1911, she had produced a handful of books, including her two volumes of poetry, but in that year she had to deal with considerable financial and personal upheaval. She learned that her husband had mismanaged their finances, and they had to sell their home. Revealing an inclination toward caution and self-sufficiency, Rosa pointed out to a friend that “as you have seen, I set about working and making myself independent of anything that might happen” (Bullock 13).   During roughly this same period of time, Rosa mourned the deaths of a sister and several friends. She visited a French convent in 1912 with the aim of regaining her emotional balance (Bullock 14) and completing several writing assignments (Stevens 167); letters to her daughter indicate that this sojourn was both restful and productive.

Newmarch clearly gave careful consideration to the concerns that shaped the lives of women in her day, and she herself met barriers common to her gender. As a youngster, she had been fascinated by her father’s medical books, but early inclinations to pursue a career in that field were stifled by a letter from her brother making the “usual arguments of the day” against a woman becoming a doctor (Stevens 18).   With regard to professions in music, she had been aware of the family conversations about whether her sisters should pursue careers as performers, and “whether a woman is justified in earning money she does not actually need” (Bullock 101). Her own role as a writer on music allowed her a less visible, and therefore more acceptable, role in the world of music (Bullock 103). But when a friend congratulated Newmarch on having found “such a nice occupation for a lady,” Newmarch protested that the work “did not always prove to be of that silken-flowing, genteel description” (Newmarch, “Confessions” 252). Newmarch claimed to have been the first female writer of program notes (an assertion that might be impossible to confirm), and confessed that she “felt a sense of responsibility . . . to my own sex” (“Confessions” 252). A recent commentator finds in Newmarch’s writings a “gendered response to music” (Purkis 15), quoting for support these lines from Newmarch’s biography of Henry Wood:

A musical work without a performer has the same half-reality of existence as an unborn infant. Some one must bring it into the world—must compel it to utter those sounds which are the proclamation of life itself.

Whether or not that observation constitutes a “gendered response,” other facts do suggest Newmarch’s awareness of gender issues. When she was hired to write program notes for a fee lower than that earned by her male predecessors, she demanded equal pay, in this letter from 1908:


I have two cogent reasons for not being satisfied with this offer, and I trust you will not think me unreasonable if I state them plainly. . . . [W]hen a woman takes over men’s work, they have some grounds for complaint against her sex generally if she immediately undertakes it at reduced fees. It would be very unpleasant for me if either of these gentlemen could legitimately feel I have undersold them. My second reason is . . . the extensive sale of my books in England and America, and the class of literary work with which my name is connected” (Bullock 114).

In addition, the novels Newmarch translated dealt with women’s issues (Bullock 118), and the rights of women were “at the heart of” the Society of Women Musicians she joined in 1926 (Bullock 115). When Newmarch’s husband died in 1927 after a fall during a family holiday, her mourning did not prevent her from taking on, in that same year, the presidency of the Society of Women Musicians.[1] (In an apparent nod to Rosa’s prominence, two articles about her husband’s death in 1927 used the headline “Husband of Noted Writer Found Dead.”[2]) As president of the Society, Newmarch campaigned for the hiring of more women musicians in the BBC National Orchestra (Bullock 117).

Rosa Newmarch’s death on April 9, 1940, at the age of 82, was noted by obituaries in The Times, The Musical Times, and The Chesterian. Newmarch left behind the first several chapters of a memoir, but their coverage ends shortly after 1900. Her daughter Elsie added biographical chapters covering Rosa’s later years, but confessed that she had difficulty dealing with letters that revealed “unhappy, intimate and difficult domestic upheavals” (Stevens 312). Prospective publishers felt that the hybrid autobiography/biography suffered “a certain shapelessness” and that it would be difficult to market (Stevens 313); another complained that “the portrait of [Rosa] never quite comes to life. Remarkable and vital woman that she was, she remains within these pages but a shade of her true self. . . . the essential spark is missing” (Stevens xii).   Biographer Lewis Stevens (an important source for this essay) made extensive use of the memoir, including Elsie’s contributions (along with Rosa’s letters and the reminiscences of her granddaughter).


Rosa Newmarch’s work as a writer on music reflects scholarship, industry, sensitivity to musical styles, and an appreciation for the needs of the concert-going public. In addition to book-length biographies of Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Jean Sibelius, and Henry J. Wood, her output includes translations, articles in periodicals, and several years’ worth of program notes for performances at Queen’s Hall, most notably the “Promenade” concerts or “Proms” directed by Henry J. Wood. Her work with Russian music—an interest instigated by her study of Russian literature, language, and art, and nurtured by frequent travels to Russia—is considered especially influential. In addition to her historical and critical writings, Newmarch made Russian opera accessible to the British public with translations of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godounov, Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, and a variety of vocal works by composers such as Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Stravinsky. She gave public lectures on Russian music, lobbied conductor Henry Wood for the programming of more Russian music on the “Proms” concerts, and contributed several articles on Russian composers to the prestigious Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Colles).[3] Among Newmarch’s extensive writings, three books form a “trilogy” that she considered the “chief literary work of her life” (Bullock 15): Poetry and Progress in Russia (1907), The Russian Opera (1914), and, on the visual arts, The Russian Arts (1916).

But the prolific writer may have reached her largest audience with her program notes, read by countless concert audience members and later collected into six volumes titled The Concert-Goer’s Library of Descriptive Notes, published between 1928 and 1948. Newmarch once described “the supreme moment when [the program annotator] looks down on a thousand heads, or more, bent apparently in profound interest over [her] profound utterances”; she noted the rare reward for a writer of “seeing his work absorbed by the public for which it is written” (“Confessions” 255).   By 1935, she had written more than 2,000 of these “analytical descriptions” (“40 Years” 6), covering music ranging from J. S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor to the world premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces. An obituary claims that “from 1908 until the war [Newmarch] was the most prolific writer of programme notes that this country has known” (Musical Times 1940, 233). Composer Henry Wood suggested that the impressive quantity of the notes was matched by their quality, writing that Newmarch’s program notes were “not merely a synopsis of the works she treats, but . . . beautiful specimens of English literature” (302). A 1911 article in The Musical Times indicated that Newmarch “does not trouble us with meticulous details, our attention is not drawn to the resolution of the very last diversion of the supertonic minor 13th on the Polish 6th, but her appeal is always aesthetic and seeks to lay bare the underlying poetic bases of the music” (M. 227).   Newmarch herself later quoted that remark, calling it a just assessment of her aims (Confessions 256), and on another occasion she asserted, “I have tried to set some details in a poetic rather than prosaic light” (M. 227). But while Newmarch’s commentaries include imaginative and personalized descriptions, they also provide carefully selected technical details. Her notes on the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, for example, include not only phrases such as “the full sunshine of life” and “the supreme impulse of a strong will,” but also references to “the chord of the dominant seventh” and “a pedal-point” (Newmarch, Concert-Goer’s Library 7).[4] The well-chosen musical particulars aptly support Newmarch’s apparent goal of reaching the public on a visceral level. Indeed, a recent assessment describes Newmarch’s approach as “a kind of visualized physical, even erotic, response,” noting her concern with “making the intuition, feeling, and imagination of the music resound in the listener” (Purkis 13).

In the decades since her death, Newmarch’s writings on music have earned a mixed reception. A recent article labels her somewhat dismissively as “the successful musical populariser” (Thomson 96), and one music historian finds her work on Russian music “riddled with errors” (Taruskin 2). In a more generous assessment, another historian points out that she was not writing for an academic readership, but for a “nascent” audience new to much of the music she described; her commentary should thus be considered “an act of cultural translation across time and space,” with a significance that “outstrips [its] more frequently asserted shortcomings” (Bullock 3). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls her musicological work “thorough” and “meticulous” (Warrack). Still another modern appraisal links her prose writings to her poetry:

Her love of music, talent for writing, and ear for musical composition inform her famous nonpoetical works, but they coalesce in her two volumes of poetry. . . . In many of these poems Newmarch expresses the same emotive power she identifies in the music of Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky and Henry J. Wood (Maynard 165).


But Newmarch’s obituary in The Musical Times likely represents the public perception of her work in her own day: it emphasizes her remarkably extensive work as a program annotator, calling these her “utility writings,” and notes vaguely that “at the other end of the scale, she was a poet” (233).


Newmarch’s two collections of poetry (including both original poems and translations) offer thoughtful explorations of love, loss, and the natural world, with assured formal skill and convincing emotional depth. One critic has asserted that “the best of her original and translated poems deserve to be read alongside those of better-remembered Edwardian and Georgian poets: Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, John Masefield, Isaac Rosenberg” (Brown 2010, 397).   A more recent study of Newmarch’s poetry finds that it has elements in common with the work of her contemporaries Rupert Brooke, Mary Coleridge, W. B. Yeats, and, again, John Masefield, specifically “an emphasis on the transformative power of art, the symbolic appropriation of cultures beyond England, and the undeceived exploration of sexuality” (Holmes/Distiller 15). Elsewhere, her poetry has been called “an appropriate and true expression of her love of music, human emotions, dramatic potential, and Russian arts and culture” (Maynard 171).

Newmarch’s first collection, Horae Amoris: Songs and Sonnets, appeared in 1903, and earned generally favorable reviews. Her hometown newspaper, The Leamington Spa Courier, called the book “a volume for the eclectic,” in which “the author crystallises thoughts chaste and elegant”; the same article cites the poetry’s “beauty of imagery, pathos, and force” (3). The literary magazine The Athenaeum accorded special notice to the central sonnet sequence of the book, praising its “sustained dignity and maturity” (quoted in Holmes/Distiller 15). A slightly cooler appraisal of the sonnet sequence, in another magazine published in the same year, still grants the poet’s skill:

Mrs. Newmarch’s sonnet sequence, which forms the major part of her little book of poems, is an excellent specimen of academic composition. . . . [The poems] move us by no passionate challenge for sympathy—rather by an appeal to our sense of ordered beauty of design and of the serene perfection of chiseled workmanship (quoted in Stevens 124).


A more recent opinion of the sonnets includes praise for their “precision and haunting honesty” (Boos 269).

Of the three sections of Horae Amoris, the first, “In Modo Tristi,” features the most plentiful musical allusions; the staff notation for a minor scale prefaces the section, signaling both a musical approach and a somber tone. Two poems refer to specific composers. In “At the Piano,” individual composers are associated with “sober” or more “turbulent” states of mind:


At the Piano

            “Sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”

Play me some sober tune of long ago:

A minuet of Lulli [sic], stately sweet,

Or march of Handel, strong in rhythmic beat,

Wherein no tides of passion come and go.

For, dearest, if you plunge my soul again

In those dark waters, turbulent and deep,

Of Schumann’s anguish, I must surely weep

Fresh tears into that bitter sea of pain. (8)

The connection of Schumann’s music to especially deep feelings might well derive from a personal listening experience, but it also reflects a common perception of Schumann’s music; as one of the early Romantic composers, he was more likely than Baroque composers Lully and Handel to create overtly emotional effects. Like Newmarch’s program notes, this poem makes clear the possibilities for passionate responses to music.  

On the other hand, music is virtually impotent in the poem called “Modulation” (whose repetitive, sing-song quality will be considered below):




I am so glad, my heart, to-day,

To-day, my heart, I am so glad,

That Chopin’s sighs, or Schumann’s sorrow,

Or any dirge you chose to play,

Would not avail to make me sad,

Or think on what might come to-morrow.


My heart, to-day I am so sad,

I am so sad, my heart, to-day,

I do not think that you could borrow

From child or bird a theme so gay

That it could move me to be glad,

Or help me to forget my sorrow. (9)

Schumann is again associated with sorrow, but neither his music nor that of Chopin can sadden the speaker’s “glad” heart, nor can the sounds of children or birds can help the speaker to forget his grief. Some reconciliation of the differing attitudes toward music in these two poems might be found in “A Lost Spring” (which does not mention an individual composer): the speaker makes it clear that music sometimes does have the power to comfort, but that in this particular case, “no melody will shed / Upon my heart its anodyne, / Unless your music blends with mine” (10). This poem typifies most of Newmarch’s poetry in its focus on love; music almost always serves only as a metaphor, or a catalyst for emotion, not as the central subject of the poem.

All three of the poems mentioned thus far exemplify Newmarch’s preference for regular rhyme and meter. “At the Piano” and “A Lost Spring” consist of quatrains, two and three of them respectively, while “Modulation” takes the form of two six-line stanzas. “At the Piano” features pentameter lines, mostly iambic, and the other poems use iambic tetrameter; the rhymes of all three poems fall into neat patterns. The especially musical “Modulation” suggests the tone of a ballad in its sing-song repetition of words, ideas, and grammatical constructions. The second stanza begins with a variation on the opening of the first; one analyst calls the start of the second stanza “literally a first inversion chord” (Maynard 167), equating its rearrangement of words to the common rearrangement of pitches in recurring harmonies.  

The structural regularity of Newmarch’s poems includes her frequent use of the sonnet form. Five of the fourteen poems in the first section of Horae Amoris are sonnets, four of those in the Petrarchan style. The single Shakespearean sonnet, “To an Instrument,” offers a thoughtful and sensuous link between musical performance and romantic interactions (16). Newmarch exploits the physical relationship between instrument and player to make her point, noting that just as “fickle” keys respond “in dull obedience to a stranger’s hand,” some hearts “lightly move / In shallow melody to each new touch.” The speaker of the poem, however, claims that his own heart “shall be like some rare instrument, / Whose strings broke when its only player went” (16).

In the central section of Horae Amoris, the aforementioned sequence of thirty-four sonnets (itself titled “Horae Amoris,” or “Hours of Love”) tells the story of the speaker’s love for a woman whose marriage has broken down; the speaker shares the woman’s suffering, patiently comforts her, imagines their future together, and wonders if their affection will survive the apparent repair of her marriage. Despite the scant attention accorded Newmarch’s poetry in general, considerable ink has been spilled concerning whether this sequence portrays a lesbian romance.   No pronouns reveal the speaker’s gender, and his or her affection for the unhappily married woman is clearly a secret throughout the sequence. John Holmes and Natasha Distiller offer extensive support for interpreting these factors as indications of the speaker’s female identity, calling on Petrarchan and Shakespearean traditions, socio-cultural factors, and the history of homosexuality (Holmes/Distiller 16-34). They suggest that the sequence may be based on Newmarch’s romantic feelings toward Bella Simpson, a very close friend who lived with the Newmarch family for decades (20-21). But unlike the beloved in the sonnets, Simpson was never married (perhaps an insignificant discrepancy, given a poet’s freedom to bend facts). Stevens points out that some of Newmarch’s letters find her complaining about Bella, her tone more dutiful and burdened than affectionate (170-172). Another critic assumes that the speaker is Newmarch herself, though no evidence is given for that assertion (Boos 269), while yet another opines that the speaker “seems to be a man” (Maynard 168). A 1907 biographical sketch claims vaguely that the sonnet sequence was “based on a series of tragic events which actually happened” (Miles). Even Holmes and Distiller concede that “in the end, we have a [speaker] who might be, but is not necessarily, either male or female, either homo- or hetero- ” (34).  

In any case, the sequence tells a convincing story of one-sided and doomed love, in well-crafted sonnets enriched by references to music, the natural world, distant lands (apparently Russia), and other tragic stories of devotion (those of Christ, Tristram, and Eugene Onegin). Among the more imaginative sonnets in the cycle is the eleventh one, which offers a variety of analogies for the diverse moods of sorrow:

Her sorrow, like herself, knows many moods.

Now, white and silent as a Polar sea,

It freezes tears and bars out sympathy.

Again ’tis like an injured queen who broods

On kingdoms lost, while not a page intrudes

Upon her tragic hour; or it may be

Played out like some old, curious comedy

Through which are scattered poignant interludes.

But oftener still her grief is like those swift

And pelting gusts that shake the world in spring,

When cold, sharp hail on leaf and bud is loosed,

Ere, being spent, the cloud can break and lift.

So blind, so keen, so wild her sorrowing—

Till with a smile she heals what she has bruised. (31)

The “Polar sea” may not represent a particularly original metaphor for the cold isolation of grief, but an “injured queen” and a “curious comedy” offer considerably more intriguing parallels. The sestet’s invocation of spring as a symbol of sorrow is perhaps most surprising; with the phrases “pelting gusts” and “sharp hail,” Newmarch focuses on the less comfortable aspects of the season, while eventually finding in it a capacity for healing. Sonnet XIX, titled “Then and Now,” also offers a somewhat unusual perspective. Apparently addressing the beloved’s husband, it notes that while the husband or lover “possessed” the loved one when she was a “radiant bride,” the speaker does not begrudge him that “sweet” and would not trade it for his own “bitter,” that is, the woman’s “widowed soul,” her “broken voice,” and how she clung to the speaker when “neath her feet / The solid earth had failed” (39).

Among the more subtly passionate of these sonnets is the only one in the sequence that ostensibly focuses on music:

XVII. The Symphony

(Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky)


Hearing the first notes of the symphony,

Where as in a quadriptych, fold on fold,

’Gainst a black ground, lit by Hope’s star of gold,

Is shown the strife ’twixt man and destiny—

Her eyes for tears in mine I could not see.

But when Hope’s star had set, and dark out-rolled

That life’s last message, whereby we are told

The sure mortality of things that be,

And brought with frozen hearts and catching breath

To look adown the abyss where all things dear,

Achievement and desire, and all belief

Pass into nothing, leaving only Death

The one thing certain and the one thing near—

I felt her hand in mine shake like a leaf. (37)

The persona finds in the four movements of the piece (“a quadriptych”) the sounds of struggle (the “strife ’twixt man and destiny”) and reminders of mortality. Early in the sonnet, the speaker cannot tell whether his companion is weeping, because his own eyes are filled with tears; by the end, the speaker conveys his realization that the loved one is also greatly moved by sharing the physical sensation of her trembling hand. Calvin Brown, who wrote extensively on poetry about music, assumes that the symphony in question is Tchaikovsky’s sixth and final work in the genre, the Pathétique (Brown 1953, 99), and connects the poem’s sentiments to Newmarch’s interpretation of the symphony in her biography of the composer. There Newmarch rejects the common association of the symphony with Tchaikovsky’s impending death, possibly by suicide. Pointing to biographical circumstance for support, she concludes that “It seems . . . more reasonable to interpret both the overwhelming energy of the third movement, and the abysmal sorrow of the Finale, in the broader light of a national or historical significance, rather than to narrow them to the expression of . . . a mere personal apprehension of death” (Newmarch, Tchaikovsky 107). Death certainly pervades the sonnet, but on a cosmic scale, with a black sky “lit by Hope’s star of gold”—a star that sets, so that all things “pass into nothing.”  Like many poems about music, this one contains no musical details that would allow us to identify it confidently with a particular piece, but Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony certainly exudes the deep melancholy evoked in these lines.

In the third section of the Horae Amoris collection, titled “Verses and Translations,”   original poems include further meditations on love and loss, along with an ode to the artist Rembrandt, a birthday poem, and a tribute to Newmarch’s mentor, art critic Vladimir Stasov. Seven translations from Russian poetry follow, including a work song for convicts, a meditation on haying, and a serenade to dreaming.

In a substantial discussion of Newmarch’s approach to translation, Holmes and Distiller cite her “freedom” in “refashioning” poems (42). They report that Newmarch “takes the view that a translation must be judged as an English poem, so in the process of translation she adopts not only the English language but also the forms of English poetry. Often this involves radically transforming the original poem” (43). Similarly, another recent analysis states that while Newmarch was “fully able to reproduce metrical and rhyme schemes when she [chose], she [was] also concerned to produce an independently valuable English poem, and [favored] freedom over literalism, cultural transplantation over exoticism” (399). Newmarch’s work as a translator is extensive: according to Holmes and Distiller, “Poem for poem, translations account for nearly two-fifths of her poetry, line by line for well over a half of it” (Holmes/Distiller 34). Newmarch’s “importance as a mediator of Russian poetry” has been likened to her “known importance as a mediator of Russian music” (Brown 2010, 403).[5]  

Newmarch’s second collection of poetry, Songs to a Singer, and Other Verses, appeared in 1906. It, too, received a favorable (if somewhat condescending) review in The Leamington Spa Courier, which cited “charming sentiments prettily expressed”; it also praised “imagery most forcible” and called the poetry “refined, elevating, chaste” (1906, 3). In the same year, another review reported, “This volume of poems is a good deal above the average. . . . Indeed, if Miss [sic] Newmarch’s range was rather wider, she would rank high as a poet, for she writes with fine ease of rhythm and much distinction of phraseology” (quoted in Stevens 128). Another 1906 critic hailed Newmarch as “a new voice in poetry, sharply free from facile conventions of phrase, and painfully vibrant with deep spiritual experience,” and noted that she “see[s] life through the veil of music, and music though the veil of life” (quoted in Stevens 132, 129)   The poet herself professed to prefer this volume to her earlier book of verse; she wrote to a friend that these poems were “more mature” and had “more fervor . . . and infinitely more art” (Correspondence 83). A recent evaluation finds many of the poems in this book “more sophisticated” than those in the first book (Maynard 169).

Like Newmarch’s first book, this collection, too, is dominated by themes of love and longing. Not surprisingly (given its title), Songs to a Singer incorporates even more musical allusions than Horae Amoris, though many of these are passing references to birdsong. The opening section, “Songs to a Singer,” includes poems both to and about a singer, and the sentiments expressed in many of them “could well fit into the category of romantic friendship” (Holmes/Distiller 21). The first poem in Songs to a Singer, “The Prelude to Day,” links sunrise to a series of musical sounds and ultimately to a human voice—clearly a beloved human voice:

The Prelude to Day


The violins had stirred with hopes that died,

Like winds too weak to usher in the morn,

While to the dark-toned basses still replied

The sad, uncertain echo of the horn.

The impending mass of music seemed to brood

Inert and torpid, as nocturnal earth

Waits pulseless in the vague disquietude

Of that last hour which shrouds the daylight’s birth.

Until the blast of trumpets came to break

And splinter darkness into saffron bars;

Then flute scales, as from throstles half-awake,

And harp-chords like the farewell sigh of stars.

But last of all the effulgence of your voice

Rose, scattering all the lingering fears of night,

And bade my heart grow warm, my soul rejoice;

As though God said once more, “Let there be light!” (9-10)

The careful reader may find himself listening as well; with a minimal knowledge of instrumental sounds, one may hear a crescendo from the violins’ feeble hopes to the “blast” of trumpets and the singing of flutes. The progression of increasingly strong and compelling sounds gives the human voice of the final stanza the cumulative weight of a gift long desired—one as profound as God’s gift of light.

In other poems from the book’s first two sections (“Songs to a Singer” and “Verses”), song is associated with the course of a star (“Euphrosyne,” 14), with a youthful spirit (“My Birthday,” 34-35), with spring and love (“Forest Song,” 45-46), and with memories (“The Song Unsung,” 75-79). As in Newmarch’s first collection, almost none of the musical allusions in the second book refer to specific pieces or composers, but “The Song Unsung” links the divine specifically to music of Beethoven (77) and associates mystery with an unnamed song by Hugo Wolf (79).

Among the more intriguing poems in Songs to a Singer is one that rejects music:


Our Silences


The world may have your songs,

Your beauty and your smiles,

The art that moves great throngs,

The manner that beguiles.

What use have I for these,

Who crave a fuller dole:

Prefulgent silences

When soul tells all to soul? (37)

As in “The Prelude to Day,” what the speaker most treasures is associated with light; the silent communing of souls is “prefulgent.” Considering Newmarch’s intense involvement with music, and the great affection for a singer that pervades this book, it may seem surprising that the speaker of this poem prefers silence. But as already noted, Newmarch’s poetry focuses more on love than on music, with the latter serving as colorful metaphor or expressive allusion; perhaps this poem makes the poet’s priorities especially clear.              

Other notable features of this collection include multiple appearances of a rose motif—in “White Rose or Red,” “The Rose of Song,” “The Hope of June,” and “Rose of Roses.” One commentator terms these recurrences “overuse” (Maynard 169), but it should be noted that the poet finds a variety of meanings in this symbol. Its significance varies from the refreshment suggested by a white rose to the fire of a red rose (11), its sweetness persists even in rain and sadness (29), and it humbles its lesser peers, as does a superb singer (12-13). The rose appears more obliquely in “Stornelli,” whose title refers to an Italian song form. Each tercet of this poem links a specific bloom to a phase of love, with the first foreshadowing an unhappy ending with its allusion to the rose as a “Flower of the thorn” (80). Other elements of the natural world also appear in Songs to a Singer. In “Starless Nights,” an ocean tide approaches the shore much as one soul approaches another (15), and in “Midsummer’s Star,” stars are urged to shine while they may, before “mine own star” (the favored singer) glows and makes them seem “wan and grey” (31)—yet another association of the ideal with light. In “Mystical Song,” Newmarch’s accustomed motifs of nature, music, and love come together:

            As clouds are drawn along a river’s course

            Out to some distant, unconjectured sea,

            So down a silver stream of melody

            My soul to yours is drawn by mystic force. (36)

In contrast to Newmarch’s first volume of poetry, Songs to a Singer includes only three sonnets. But like her first book, this one contains a sequence of poems that constitutes a complete narrative—another story of doomed love. The final section of Songs to a Singer is titled “Fragments from ‘King Waldemar,’ A Libretto for a Dramatic Symphony Based on the ‘Gurresange’ of A. P. Jacobsen.” In a German translation by Robert Franz Arnold, the Jacobsen text (originally in Danish) would later provide the words of Arnold Schoenberg's 1911 cantata Gurre-Lieder. Both titles refer to the Gurre Castle, site of the Danish national legend in which King Waldemar’s love for Tove is thwarted when she is murdered by jealous Queen Helvig. Holmes and Distiller refer to Newmarch’s sequence as a “selective translation” of Jacobsen, with “an interpolated lyric by Newmarch herself in the voice of Helvig” (Holmes/Distiller 35). Compared to the Schoenberg text, Newmarch’s sequence is much shorter, but the two versions share key elements of the original poem, including Waldemar’s midnight song, the narrative role served by a wood-dove, Tove’s funeral procession, and “The Summer Wind’s Wild Chase,” with which Newmarch’s sequence concludes. Schoenberg’s version continues to a final evocation of dawn, but Newmarch leaves the narrative in the dark of night, with the summer wind “spent” and “glad to rest” (107).

Newmarch’s poetic pen apparently rested as well after Songs to a Singer. Newmarch published no more original poetry, save for a single poem titled “To Russia,” which appeared in The Times in 1916 (Holmes/Distiller 15). Biographer Stevens refers to thirty unpublished poems, but none seem to date from beyond 1917 (133). A volume published in 2010, titled (somewhat confusingly) Horae Amoris: The Collected Poems of Rosa Newmarch, contains over forty poems not published in the original two collections, but all except one of those are translations, mostly from the Russian. For the rest of her life, however, Newmarch would continue to write program notes, translations of the texts of vocal works, and books and articles on music history, and she would be recognized for bringing “a poetic temperament to bear on all her literary tasks” (M 225). Her remarkable productivity, like the “stream of melody” in her poem, might seem almost “mystical”: a list of all her publications occupies nearly seventeen pages (Bullock 148-164). The range of her research is also remarkable: in addition to her abundant work on Russian and Eastern European composers, her original writings and translations involve figures as diverse as Brahms, Debussy, Elgar, and Franck. In light of these accomplishments, the limits of time alone might explain the apparent near-cessation of the poetic “stream” after Songs to a Singer. But the substantial dual legacy she did leave deserves to be better known. As a critic, historian, and translator, Rosa Newmarch worked with exceptional diligence and earned considerable respect. As a poet, she offered thoughtful meditations on love and nature in lines infused with the sensitivity and craftsmanship of a musician.


Select Bibliography

“40 Years of ‘Prom’ Concerts.” The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, July 29,1935, p. 6.


Blain, Virginia, Virginia Clements; and Isobel Grundy; eds. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.


Boos, Florence S. “Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poetic Daughters: Fin de siècle Women Poets and the Sonnet.” Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now, ed. David Clifford and Laurence Roussillon. London: Anthem Press, 2004, pp. 253-81.


Brown, Calvin. Tones into Words. Athens: University of Georgia, 1953.


Brown, Catherine. “ [Review:] ‘Horae Amoris’: The Collected Poems of Rosa Newmarch, Edited by John Holmes and Natasha Disillter (2010).” Translation and Literature 20/3 (Autumn 2011): 397-403.


Bullock, Philip Ross. Rosa Newmarch and Russian Music in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century England. Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009.


Colles, H. C., Peter Platt, and David Brown. “Newmarch [née Jeaffreson], Rosa.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, 2007-2015. Web: http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.libserv-prd.bridgew.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/19822?q=newmarch&search=quick&source=omo_gmo&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit

“The Editor’s Table: Horae Amoris: Songs and Sonnets, by Rosa Newmarch [Review].” Leamington Spa Courier, January 2, 1903, p. 3.


“The Editor’s Table: Songs to a Singer and Other Verses, by Rosa Newmarch [Review].” Leamington Spa Courier, June 8, 1906, p. 3.


Holmes, John, and Natasha Distiller, eds. “Introduction.” Horae Amoris: The Collected Poems of Rosa Newmarch. Bucks, England: Rivendale Press, 2010. Pp. 13-48.


“Husband of Noted Writer Found Dead.” The Western Times, August 5, 1927, p. 8.


M. “Mrs. Rosa Newmarch.” The Musical Times 52/818 (1 April 1911): 225-9.

Maynard, Lee Anna. “Rosa Harriet Newmarch.” Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century British Women Poets, ed. William B. Thesing. Detroit: The Gale Group, 2001, pp. 164-71.


Miles, Alfred H., ed. Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century: Joanna Baillie to Katharine Tynan. London: George Routledge & Songs, 1907. “Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles: Rosa Newmarch (1857-1940)” reprinted online at Bartleby.com: Great Books Online. Web: http://www.bartleby.com/293/357.html


Newmarch, Rosa. The Concert-Goer’s Library of Descriptive Notes, Volume 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1928.


Newmarch, Rosa. “Confessions of a Programme-Writer.” The Chesterian, 9/72 (July-August 1928): 252-7.


Newmarch, Rosa. Horrae Amoris: The Collected Poems of Rosa Newmarch. Ed. John Holmes and Natasha Distiller. Bucks, England: Rivendale Press, 2010.


Newmarch, Rosa. Horae Amoris: Songs and Sonnets. London: Elkin Mathews, 1903. Repr. Nabu Public Domain.


Newmarch, Rosa. Songs to a Singer, and Other Verses. London: John Lane, 1906. Repr. Leopold Classic Library.


Newmarch, Rosa. Tchaikovsky: His Life and Works. London: Grant Richards, 1900.


“Obituary: Mrs. Rosa Newmarch.” The Musical Times, 81/1167 (May 1940): 233-4.


Purkis, Charlotte. ‘Leader of Fashion in Musical Thought’: The Importance of Rosa Newmarch in the Context of Turn-of-the-Century British Music Appreciation.” In Nineteenth Century British Music Studies, vol. 3, ed. Peter Horton and Bennett Zon. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. 3-19.


Stevens, Lewis. An Unforgettable Woman: The Life and Times of Rosa Newmarch. Leicester, UK: Matador, 2011.


Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music. University of California Press, 2010.


Thomson, Andrew. “Nearing Newmarch.” Musical Times 151 (2010): 96-100.

Warrack, John. “Newmarch, Rosa Harriet (1857-1940).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Web: www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46561


Wood, Henry J. My Life of Music. London: Victor Gollancz, 1948.

[1] Concerning her husband’s death, Newmarch wrote to her sister-in-law on or about August 4, 1927: “It is not nearly so dreadful as it looks in the papers. Poor dear Harry was (for him) quite cheerful on Saturday when he trudged off with his fishing rod. But you know I have thought him steadily failing lately, and at times his mental condition made him quite oblivious of physical disabilities. He habitually overestimated his powers of walking and taking constant restless exercise. He was not easily ‘managed,’ and indeed one could not forever be saying: ‘Harry you shall not,’ and ‘you must’ and lately reasoning and persuasion were of very little avail. His end was instantaneous, dear Emily. Elsie and I searched all we could, but it needed a number of active men to go over the comparatively small circuit in which he was wandering. He must have passed through some phase of forgetfulness, or aberration, with a fixed idea in his mind.” (Quoted in Stevens 280.)


[2] The article in The Daily Express, August 3, 1927, included these details: “The missing man had been found dead about twelve or fourteen hours, and appeared to have broken his neck by falling down the bank while in an exhausted condition . . . Mr. Newmarch left the house on Saturday to walk the ten miles to the Doone Valley. Night came and he did not return. More than a hundred people have been hunting since Saturday over every square yard of the bare countryside where it was thought Mr Newmarch might have wandered” (quoted in Stevens 280). Similarly, The Western Times, August 5, 1927, p. 8, reported, : “The search since Sunday of the Doone Valley on Exmoor for Mr. Henry Charles Newmarch, aged 72 years, husband of Mrs. Rosa Newmarch (a noted writer on music), ended Tuesday evening, when some horsemen discovered the dead body in Copper Wood, Oare. It is believed that Mr. Newmarch fell from a bank through sheer exhaustion, breaking his neck. It is estimated that he had been dead for at least fourteen hours. Mr. Newmarch took a house at Porlock for the summer and was staying there with his wife and daughter. He set out from the house on Saturday equipped with fishing rod and tackle for a walk, and as he had not returned late on Saturday night anxiety was felt. Search parties were raised, but his body was not discovered until Tuesday evening. The village of Oare is the scene of the district described by Blackmoor in his tale of ‘Lorna Doone.’”)

[3] The authoritative musicological resource Grove Music Online states: “In 1897 she made the first of a series of visits to Russia, where she worked at the Imperial Public Library of St Petersburg under the supervision of Vladimir Stasov. Her numerous articles and lectures on Russian music and art in general did much to further in England an interest already awakened by Tchaikovsky's music. Newmarch's articles on Russian composers, contributed to Grove's Dictionary, second edition, were to many English musicians the first source of information about the aims and achievements of Russian nationalists . . .” (Colles et al.)

[4] Newmarch’s full description of the movement (including a quotation most likely from musicologist and critic Camille Bellaigue at the end) reads as follows: “No Finale ever gave rise to more bewilderment, or conflicting interpretation, than that of the Eroica. One thing is clear—it leads us ever farther from the elegiac mood into the full sunshine of life and the joy of heroic achievement. After an impetuous rush of violins, brought suddenly to a pause on the chord of the dominant seventh, the strings pizzicato give out the first subject, or rather the bass of it. (This theme had already been employed by Beethoven in his ‘Prometheus.’) This subject, which lends itself admirably to imitation and ingenious embroidery, is repeated, and then follows a set of variations. In the third of these the melody itself is introduced in the woodwind, and the two themes—hand in hand, as it were—continue their way with many delightful digressions. A rushing scale-passage for violins brings the most heroic moment of the heroic work. It symbolizes perhaps the supreme impulse of a strong will, the ardour of a great beneficent desire, or the apotheosis of the hero himself. As in the opening of the Finale, the orchestra pauses on a pedal-point, while a graver version of the original melody now reappears. ‘It spreads in successive waves, in ever-widening circles, in soaring arpeggios, in gigantic chords, piled one above another and mountain like a tide. A few plaintive voices linger, as though to prolong the sentiment of regret, but the spirit of gladness is too strong. In one dizzy sweep, the Symphony is carried away and engulfed in a heroic whirlpool of divine joy’ (Bellaigue).” (Newmarch, Concert-Goer’s Library 7).

[5] A collection of Newmarch’s poetry issued in 2010 includes not only the translations from Horae Amoris, but also the translations from her books The Art Songs of Russia, Poetry and Progress in Russia, and The Devout Russian (Newmarch, Collected).

Rosa Newmarch
Years: 1857-1940
Birthplace: England
Language(s): English, She read and translated from Russian, German, French, Czech
Forms: sonnets, rhymed quatrains, other rhymed and metrical forms
Subjects: love, music, nature
Entry By: Jean L. Kreiling
32 Poems
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