Today’s theme song for ENGL 203-04 is “Solitude,” composed by Duke Ellington and first performed by him in 1934. The lyrics were written by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills. Billie Holiday recorded her version in 1952.
Needless to say, the mood of yearning and despair here is quite different from that of the “Solitude” chapter in Walden. “I come and go with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself,” writes Thoreau. He seems to revel in his solitude — “I love to be alone,” he tells us — though he can do so in part because he isn’t really alone. He’s inseparable from all that surrounds him. It’s not just that he has “the friendship of the seasons” and human visitors who leave traces of themselves after visiting his house in his absence; he also feels himself to be deeply enmeshed in Nature — “a part of herself.” His liberty when alone is a liberty in Nature, the liberty of one whose identity isn’t defined solely by what lies within. “Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?”
As a bonus track offered with no pretense of a connection to Thoreau, here are Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong performing another song to which Eddie DeLange penned the words, the memorable “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans,” written for the 1947 film New Orleans.