When All is Done

SATB (divisi) and Trumpet in C

Recording credit: from the Delos CD titled American VoicesProvided to YouTube by NAXOS of America; Choir: John Alexander Singers; Conductor: John Alexander; Trumpet: Barry Perkins

Recording credit: John Alexander Singers, conducted by John Alexander, with Barry Perkins, trumpet

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WHEN all is done, and my last word is said,
And ye who loved me murmur, “He is dead,”
Let no one weep, for fear that I should know,
And sorrow too that ye should sorrow so.

When all is done and in the oozing clay,
Ye lay this cast-off hull of mine away,
Pray not for me, for, after long despair,
The quiet of the grave will be a prayer.

For I have suffered loss and grievous pain,
The hurts of hatred and the world’s disdain,
And wounds so deep that love, well-tried and pure,
Had not the pow’r to ease them or to cure.

When all is done, say not my day is o’er,
And that thro’ night I seek a dimmer shore:
Say rather that my morn has just begun,—
I greet the dawn and not a setting sun,
When all is done.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906)


When All is Done was commissioned by the University of Wyoming at the invitation of Nicole Lamartine, Director of Choral Activities and premiered at the 13th Annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. The work has its genesis in a request from Nicole for a choral work commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard in one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern U.S. history. As Nicole and I discussed what kind of a work to create for this occasion, and as I searched through dozens of texts, I ran across the powerful poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), known to many as the father of black American poetry. The son of former slaves, Dunbar was keenly aware of the social cost and personal pain of oppression and hatred.

In choosing this poem—rather than one of the many poems written as memorials to Matthew—I made a conscious decision to create a memorial to Matthew that would be an oblique rather than a direct reference to the specific event of his murder, a work that could serve as a universal memorial to all victims of hatred and oppression. After reading extensively about Matthew and about the event itself and the trial, I had the feeling that this is what Matthew would have wanted.

On my initial reading of the poem, I heard the voice of the poet paint a graphic picture of the price of hatred and of the emptiness of loss and the grave. Yet ultimately this darkness leads to the light of redemption. As I reread Dunbar’s poem, I had a remarkably moving experience: Dunbar’s voice—reaching out across more than a century—became Matthew’s voice, speaking to all those who mourned for him. As I continued to read, their voices merged together, joining with the voices of all victims of hatred and oppression, crying out for justice, warning us of the stinging cost of hatred, yet selflessly and compassionately redirecting us all from despair and emptiness to the hope of a new morning in which we can all greet not the “setting sun” of the present day, but “the dawn” of a new age, that great Dream of Dr. King, in which love rightly transcends hatred and oppression “when all is done.”