Tag Archives: Dark Days

Sermon preached at Dumfries North West on 17 November 2013

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Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Emma Calvé – “Bearer of the Fire Divine.”

VENICE, that city of delight, the joy of poets and the home of beauty, holds for me other
memories than those of the gay days of my triumphs there. For me it is darkened by the shadow
of a great sorrow, the memory of a day when my soul touched the black depths of passion and de-
spair, and yet was saved.

I was alone. For a whole week I had been awaiting, in an anguish of pain and suspense, the arrival
of a certain letter. It came at last, brutal, crushing, final, announcing an overwhelming catastrophe, the
end of happiness, the death of hope.

A terrible despair seized me. I wished to die.

Leaning from my balcony, I looked into the black water below, longing for the peace, the forgetting
that one movement, one single effort, would bring me. Cut off from the world around me, dumb and
blinded by my pain, I bent to the black abyss. But my musician’s ear was not yet dulled. A sound
penetrated the wall of my despair. I heard the voice of a gondolier singing as he swung his oars.

Ah! To sing! To sing once more before I died!

To cry my anguish to the night before the eternal silence should engulf me!

Like one distraught, I threw my cloak about me and went out into the night. A barque lay at the
foot of the stone stairway outside my door. I found myself seated in it, floating along the still
canal, between the dark water and the darker sky.

I began to sing, madly, passionately, all the songs I had ever known. Gay or sad, tender or tragic,
they poured from my lips in a turbulent flood. I sang as though I would never sing again, spending
my strength, my grief, my life ; giving to the unresponding shadows all that I had of beauty and
of art.

Only when my voice died in my throat, and my parched lips could make no further sound, did I
realise my strange situation. As one who painfully returns to reality from the uncharted seas of
fever and delirium, I looked about. I saw where I was, and became conscious of what I had been

All around me a moving mass of small boats pushed and jostled. They had gathered from every
side like spectre ships filled with whispering, wondering people. In a barque that almost touched my
own, I could see a young couple, closely embraced, watching me with a startled, ardent gaze. How
long had my voice been leading this phantom procession through the night?

I shrank back under the hood of my gondola, my one desire to hide from these people I had so
strangely evoked ! I gave my gondolier the address of a friend whom I knew to be absent and in whose
empty palazzo I could take sanctuary.

Many hours later, when I thought the way was open, I left my place of refuge. As I stepped into the
waiting gondola, a black shadow slipped out from the protection of the building opposite and fol-
lowed me to my hotel. The lovers on the lagoon had not given up the vigil, and had waited to dis-
cover my real abiding place!

The next morning a bouquet of flowers was brought to me with this message:

“From Paul and Jeanne, who love each other greatly and to whom you have given an unforget-
table night! May the blessing of God be upon you, you who are the bearer of the Fire Divine.”




  • Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet, was a French operatic soprano. Calvé was probably the most famous French female opera singer of the Belle Époque.
  • Born: August 15, 1858, Decazeville, France
    Died: January 6, 1942, Montpellier, France

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