It’s a famous Bjork album, but where does it come up in lyrics? The root of this word relates to the evening and its tolling bell, but also bats, Venus, a cocktail, and in slang – a kind, smart, cool girl. When we hear the word, we immediately think of the moped or scooter brand Vespa, but of course that’s a different spelling. It’s also not to be confused with vespine, vespiary or vespiform, which all link to wasps, hornets and their nests.
Vesper and other variants have a beautiful poetic sound that works well in lyrics, but is relatively rare. A vesper means the evening star, Venus, and Vesper is the Roman equivalent of the Greek demigod Hesperus relating to the same planet. But it can also mean the church bell that marks the going down of the sun. Vespers are prayers that occur in the early evening. Similarly vespertinal or vespertine pertains to the evening. To vesper, or the act of verpering, means flying towards the sunset, and that’s because vespertilian means bat-like, and to vespertilionise means to turn into a bat. Fans of of the goth genre, or indeed Meatloaf might be licking their lips at this prospect, but where does this come up in lyrics? A Vesper is also a cocktail created by James Bond novelist Ian Fleming. It’s made up of gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet, and gets a mention in the book, Casino Royale. The vesper bat is the largest and most studied of the bat species, there are also vesper mice and vesper sparrows. Lyrically then, pretty much every association looks to the evening:
Once Upon A Summertime is variously sung by The Walker Brothers, Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae and Barbra Streisand. It’s a song originally by Michel Legrand, "La Valse Des Lilas". here with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer Let’s hear a version from the Walkers’ 1967 album, Images:
Now, another wintertime has come and gone
The pigeons feeding in the square have flown
But I remember when the vespers chimed
You loved me once upon a summertime
Ralph McTell’s England 1914, looking to in the shadow of the First World War, is one of the most poetic but beautiful sad song examples using vespers, from 1969’s Spiral Staircase. The end-of-day bell was tolling for many:
The lamplighter knows the song the evening sings.
But the gas-lamps stand like soldiers
Hiss warnings to the wind
Their evening vespers prophecy a war.
The world divides
And men take sides
The spark bursts into flame
Jim and Ingrid Croce actually have a song called Vespers from the 1969 album Croce:
I'd like to think about her
And the way she used to love me
But I just can't live without her
'Cause her arms are not around me
And the season's getting later
And my body's getting colder
And the vespers ring and I'm all alone
Without my love beside me
More romantic still, but also a little saccharine, How Sad Venice Can Be, sang Charles Aznavour, listening to the bells in 1967:
Beneath the silent moon
That rises from the sea
And silvers the lagoon
I hear the vespers chime
And cross the Bridge of Sighs
I know that it is time
Verspertine? No word of the week would be complete without hearing from Aesop Rock, looking to the evening with the song Rabies (from The Impossible Kid, 2016). But is this about an animal?
New with the matutinal or peckish with the vespertine
Me, I'm pretty useless
Til the roof is painted Gemini, then set him free
Eat his own body
British synth-power-ballad band Hurts paint a dark picture with their song Rolling Stone, rewriting the story about restless soul from Verona, called Juliet:
In Belarus she was a vespertine
She danced the go-go for the bourgeosie
Now she's here and she is on her knees, uh-oh.
Alison Moyet’s deep voice meanwhile is perfect when she turns to the bells and the association of evening prayer, with a gothic feel to Rung By The Tide, from The Minutes (2013):
From vespers to the matins call
This stillness suits me best of all
No more to thunder in your hall
Or sing your brothers in
Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby did quite a few songs of course. Both he’s always around When Day Is Done, but here’s Bing bringing a romantic, wistful close to the day:
When day is done and grass is wet with twilight's dew,
My lonely heart is sinking with the sun.
Although I miss your tender kiss the whole day through,
I miss you most of all when day is done.
Vesper bells are ringing, somewhere far away,
There's a silvery star away
At the edge of the sky.
Such a poetic word must include something from the king of darkness himself, Leonard Cohen, and he comes up with beautiful use of the word, and many other vivid images on Night Comes On (from 1984’s Various Positions):
Now the crickets are singing
The vesper bells ringing
The cat's curled asleep in his chair
I'll go down to Bill's Bar
I can make it that far
And I'll see if my friends are still there
The unusual German band – sTOA – like to get their vesper references in Latin, on the song Partus from the 1995 album Porta V111
Sic aetatis ver humanae
Iuventus primo mane
mane tatem hoc excludit
Vitae vesper, dumb concludit
But are there any real bat references out there? Perhaps so in The Deer Hunter by Jedi Mind Tricks, and Chief Kamachi, from the 2000 album Violent by Design:
Conductors of viscous vespers
Candlelight death is extras
Is usually hollow point flesh presses
Until they skin caress stretchers
I'm the best to finesse
Bats? Could we be flying closer to rock-goth territory in Mars Volta’s Metatron, from album The Bedlam In Goliath (2008)?
I'll never get a distance shot
Heard vesper pure
I never want to see your face
Until the word is made flesh
You'd better ask Metatron
Those flowers that withered away
In the pages of your book
For one day
They won't block your route
So are there any other vespers, vespertines or other forms of this word lurking in the twilight or later darkness of music history? Please put forward any more you discover, or indeed other associations of the word in books, film, other culture genres, science and more.
Want to suggest other examples of this word in song lyrics, or other unusual words or contexts? Does this song make you think of something else? Then feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.
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