He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

Portrait of William Butler Yeats (Image Public Domain)

Completed October 2011, to the poem of the same name by W B Yeats

  • SATB (occasional SSAATTB), a capella
  • Self published: SL-112
  • Genre: Secular
  • Duration:  c.2:10mins
  • Difficulty Level: Difficult, close harmonies
  • PREVIEW THE SCORE The Cloths of Heaven (SATB) Preview (selected pages only)

The poem, by WB Yeats:

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Here is the wiki link to some history of the poem. And another link to the poet’s wiki page.

Why did I use this text?

2009 marked the start of a journey for me towards a new way of thinking about education. One of the catalysts for change was this video of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “Schools Kill Creativity“. I was intrigued, and I found myself digging deeper into his ideas, especially the importance of finding work that is deeply satisfying or “your element”. As a school teacher I was disturbed to think that I may be part of a system that actively discourages (trains students out of) creativity, when creativity was the very core of my work in the music department.

A follow up talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution” takes his ideas further. At the end of this talk, Robinson quotes Yeats’s poem. He uses the poem as the voice of our students, “tread softly, because you tread on my dreams”.  A challenge for all educators.

It was some time later that I composed this piece and, at the time, I had forgotten about Robinson’s use of the poem. It wasn’t until after composing the piece, when I revisited Robinson’s talks, that I rediscovered the reference there!

The piece was started in June 2010, when I sketched the main ideas and the outline of the piece. After several busy months I came back to the work, completing it in October, 2010.

At the time of composition I was exploring the music of Eric Whitacre, especially his pieces “Sleep”, which I was studying with my senior music class, and “A Boy and a Girl”. These pieces made a strong impression on me and will have coloured the way I approached the composition of “Cloths of Heaven”.

The poem’s strong imagery and repetition of ideas leant itself very well to musical setting.


See video of the NZ Youth Choir rehearsing “Cloths of Heaven”, including some background information about the composer. Here


Wellington members of NZ Youth Choir, St Andrews On the Terrace, Wellington, Wednesday 29 February 2012, 12.15pm REVIEW

NZ Youth Choir, Hawke’s Bay Opera House, Hastings, 21 April 2012 REVIEW