Episode 9: The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls – A Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Episode 9: The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls – A Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls by Henry WadsworthOur Specials Guests’ take on the track:

Our takes on the track:


The Inspiration

This time we have a very special episode. Since starting the blog we’ve come into contact with many musical artists through the brilliant medium of SoundCloud. Occasionally an artist we come across stands out and makes us listen again.  Tomorrow’s Epiphany are one such act.   They are a duo from Berlin comprising talented songwriters and performers, Lisa Ketzner & Kai Kreowski. They were inspired by the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, ‘The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls‘ to set his words to music. The result is an effortlessly beautiful song in an English folk style. Close your eyes and it could almost be Richard and Linda Thompson.

Their chosen poem, read below by the great man himself (and animated many years later!), is an evocative short poem taken from Ultima Thule (1880), the last collection of his work to be released before his death in 1882 .


Kai Kreowski from the band describes their take on the piece below.

Tomorrow’s Epiphany’s take:

Tomorrows Epiphany's studioI got in contact with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” for the first time when I was at school. Even though I read the poem in class I immediately fell in love with it (an incident which didn’t occur very often during that time) and all of a sudden a simple melody formed in my head, piling up and falling down in waves: “the tide rises, the tide falls”.

I never forgot this poem and the melody that was manifested in my head but almost 16 years had to pass by until I managed to finish writing the song and made a proper recording of it. When Lisa and I started to produce our version of “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare I remembered the poem and I thought that it fits perfectly to Lisa’s voice. I tried to vary the melody of the chorus, e.g. that the melody swells up when “the tide rises” and sinks when “the tide falls”. But at the end I stuck to the original easy melody I had in mind when I was sixteen years old. Together, we decided that the arrangement of the song should be very straightforward and similar to a traditional folk song. At the beginning there is only a guitar picking the chords D, G, A and Bmin. The harmony of two voices in the chorus shall underline the undemanding beauty of the words. The movements of the waves are also symbolized by the interaction of the two voices who start with the same melody in unison, then depart from each other and get together again. This goes on and on.

In the verse the chords swap from E7 to D to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere. But there’s also a slight blues feeling to express the sad meaning of the poem (see below). In the beginning of the second verse the music sounds darker and more quite because it’s a night scene. The guitar just plays on the first beat and a tambourine performance in between. But as the sea doesn’t stand still at night (“but the sea, the sea in darkness calls”) I tried to create a few little movements through a fingerpicked guitar and a few piano tones in the middle of the verse. Then the arrangement builds up slowly in a short interlude. I like this part because normally you would expect the chorus to occur again but this time Lisa and I just sing long syllables, thus preparing the bridge of the song. The piano repeats a very simple melody based on the chords and a hi-hat sound on the first beat smoothes it and rounds it up. The following bridge creates the climax of the song. This is the only part where all instruments play together. The piano continues with the arpeggios and a very basic drumbeat played with brushes sets in. In order to underline that the sun is rising and there is light again, the melody of the bridge is quite high (at least for my voice). But this light doesn’t mean that there is hope. It rather shows a contrast to the end of the poem: “but nevermore returns the traveller to the shore”. From my point of view the traveller has died. A sad undertone is created by the minor chords of the bridge and ends with an E7. Here the song calms down again and takes a short break to breathe: But “the tide rises, and the tide falls”.

Frosty 1973’s take:

I thought this episode would be easy. The poem is quite short. All I needed to come up with was three verses and a chorus. My initial idea came quickly. The main challenge was trying to match the rhythm of the words to a melody and chord progression. What made this more challenging was coming up with a melody and chord progression separately and then trying to merge the two together without having a good handle on the rhythm. The solution to this conundrum was to record a vocal first and play the chords underneath.

Eventually I was able to sew them together and match them to a tempo.  I then recorded a more structured version with the Antidote Synth Choir patch and a simple rhythm programmed using the Peff TR808 Kong Refill. This had the right kind of relentless feel to it reflecting the relentless nature of the tide.  I liked the simplicity of the piece but, as often happens, after a few days I became dissatisfied with the result and looked to inject some dynamics.

After some frustration with my efforts I decided to experiment with other directions.  My first thought was to try a more orchestral feel. The melody remained the same but the underlying chords changed significantly giving the whole track quite a different feel. Again the rhythm of the words and the chords became an issue and eventually I gave up trying to fit a vocal into the busy orchestral arrangement.  I’ve included the abandoned orchestral version below. There are elements of it that I like but overall the arrangement need a lot of further work to bring it together.

I then went back to basics and rebuilt the original version with a variety of synthesised sounds and effects. I agonised over the vocals and I’m still not totally happy with the final takes but I think the finished track has a bit of atmosphere and the sounds and melodies reflect to some extent the themes in the poem.  To me the words are quite simple and describe the constant flow of the world and our inevitable demise.  I found it really interesting once the process was finished to listen to the myriad of musical adaptions from others available on SoundCloud.  I’ve included them in a playlist at the end of this post.

The Parsnip’s take:

I’d not encountered this poem before. It speaks to me of the ceaseless progression of time and tide. Either that or it speaks of someone who got seasick and went right off going anywhere near the sea. I think it’s a healthy to have a good appreciation of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things so I like the first concept. Time, tide, darkness, washing away footprints, transience, and a curlew – these are all great images for a song.

Like Kai, I was drawn to a traditional folk feeling. The most evocative sea scapes I’ve experienced have been in Cornwall so the idea of a salty sea dog, cloaked in shadows, illuminated by flickering candlelight in the corner of a remote Cornish ale house recounting the sad tale of the traveller and the inevitable passage of time (or inability to cope with nausea) took shape.

Here’s how it’s goes…

The clock ticks and tocks. Time marches on. The clock is a big one. You’d have trouble trying to stop the clock. It’s metre is slow. So is the passage of time. Until you’ve not got much of your alloted span left(!).

The wind whistles. We’re on the shore. The curlew calls. The curlew is mandatory.

It’s 3/4. Like the rolling of the boats in the bay.

The concertina picks out the folk melody. Reverb and diffuse delay for added atmosphere.

The salty sea dog growls out the words. I tried singing this. I tried it multiple times as a chorus line. I didn’t like either (again), so I spake thus.

The pitch rises. The pitch falls. The mood darkens. The sea dog drawls.

The accordion is a powerful instrument. Never underestimate the accordion. The accordion is the bass. The accordion is the tide. The accordion underpins. The accordion is ever present. The accordion slowly rises and falls. Like the tide.

At this point it was all getting a bit regimented so I needed a more organic feel. The guitar arrives. Hail the guitar and the ominous ending to the verse. Bent notes will follow.

Verse two. Apologies for those of a nervous disposition. Things have got more ominous. Just like standing on the tideline with all your vision filled by the sea. It’s dark. It’s brooding. A shiver down the spine. It’s bigger than you are. By orders of magnitude hard to comprehend. The church organ pops in to remind you that you are actually really very small. The guitar has funny turn and goes all dischordant while the concertina tries (and fails) to keep a positive outlook on the day with the folk melody. The concertina is brave. The concertina is small. The concertina is fighting a losing battle and is getting a bit drowned out.

Time for respite (of a sort). “Keep a weather eye” (whatever that means). Bendy guitar still sounds ominous. Surely this isn’t going to end well.

As if verse two wasn’t enough, now the detuned piano knocks on the door, ganging up with the clock to toll like a lych bell. The glistening synth adds sparkly icing to the cacophony. The whole verse is like a cadaverous apparition leering over you. And the tide rises. The tiiiiiide faaaaaalls.

Guitar solo. “Me feet are getting wet”. I like the guitar solo. You can hear the music for a change. The bell (piano) tolls.

The drama ceases. The ghost of the melody is stripped away on the breeze. The salty sea dog finishes the tale. Arrrrrr. Time for another rum.

The clock ticks. The clock tocks. The clock ticks. But nevermore returns the tock to the score.


Other versions:

A quick search for the poem on SoundCloud reveals many other musical versions of the poem. We’ve gathered some of them together in the following playlist:


Many thanks to Kai and Lisa from Tommorrow’s Epiphany for their inspiration and contribution to this episode. You can find them at the links below. Give them a follow or a like:

See you next time…


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