Words for the Dying
John Cale set music to four of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ poems in 1982 as a response to the Falklands War. Cale writes in the liner notes “while the Argentine Flag was being raised on South Georgia, I was feverishly embarking on a comprehensive setting of the collected poems of Dylan Thomas”. Most famous is ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, originally written for Thomas’ dying father, with its line “rage against the dying of the light.”
Because the suite of four songs with some orchestral interludes and introductions is about half an hour long, it’s padded out by a couple of piano pieces and the song ‘The Soul of Carmen Miranda’, making Words for the Dying feel a little incoherent. Cale’s authoritative voice is effective enough for an orchestral setting, and it’s well orchestrated – not surprising given Cale’s schooling in classical music.
As much as the orchestral setting works with the songs, it’s arguably easier to hear the material on Cale’s 1992 live album Fragments of a Rainy Season, where he plays three of the songs accompanied only by his piano.