The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Dear Readers, I have been hard at work this week planning my Dad’s memorial service, which is taking place on 4th September. I want to have a combination of music and spoken word, and while some pieces are non-negotiable (some Spanish guitar, the theme from Last of the Summer Wine), it felt important to have something both contemplative and uplifting. Unlike at the cremation, where it was just my husband and I and the vicar, this will finally be a chance for people who knew and loved Dad to gather together to remember him, and so while it will be sad, it will also be a chance to consider his whole life now that we are not all still reeling from shock.

I chose this piece to play midway through the ceremony, for several reasons. One is that it brings back memories of holidays in Dorset when we were children. We walked around Maiden Castle, a huge earthwork, on one hot, sunny day, and the skylarks were everywhere, rising into the blue sky as if they were powered by the volume of their song. Up and up they went until they were tiny specks, their song drifting down like rain.

Maiden Castle in Dorchester (Photo by Ray Beer)

Secondly, the piece manages to combine both a wistful sadness for loss of innocence with a sense of hope, for me at least. It was composed in 1914 but extensively reworked by Vaughan Williams after the First World War. Although in his forties by the time the war started, Vaughan Williams served in the Royal Army Ambulance Corps, driving ambulances through the mud and rain. He later served in the Royal Artillery, and his hearing was damaged by the continual sound of the guns, leading to deafness in his later years. I wonder if, like other veterans of the war, he also heard the birds singing when there were moments of quiet between bombardments. In any event, there is a wistfulness about ‘The Lark Ascending’ that always makes me feel thoughtful.

And finally, I can’t listen to ‘The Lark Ascending’ without thinking of Dorset, and how much it meant to Dad and Mum. Although there was a lot of sadness in the last years of their lives, it was made easier by their living in such a peaceful and beautiful part of the country. Even when they could no longer explore, Mum would stand at the bedroom window and look at the view of the fields and trees at the end of the road. Sometimes, the moon would rise and paint everything silver. Once, we even saw shooting stars. My parents felt safe and well-loved in Dorset, and although nothing could save them in the end, they were at least surrounded by people who cared about them.

Have a listen here, and give yourselves a well-deserved rest.


7 thoughts on “The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams

  1. Anne

    I too have very fond memories of exploring Dorset and walking for miles in the company of my aunt – her memorial service is on the 2nd September – who seemed to know every footpath around Dorchester and beyond. It is a great sadness that we cannot be there – South Africa still being a ‘red’ country and the quarantine period one has to go through on both arrival in the UK and at home again. Your choice of music is both apt and beautiful.

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    A sound of my Suffolk childhood.I’d lie in the grass on Warren Hill, Newmarket, and hear them far above. Looking up at the sky caused a glorious dizziness and awe.
    Hope the memorial is just right and brings you a kind of relief.

  3. Susan Hathcock

    I will be thinking of you tomorrow, sending good wishes, and hoping the service will bring you a measure of peace. It was lovely to read your memories of Maiden Castle; it is a place I love, too, (in any weather!) and one where I always feel very happy.


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