The first of these songs dates to 1922, while the others were written in 1925. The author appearing in this collection's title, Fredegond Shove (1889 - 1949), was a little-known poet and niece of Vaughan Williams' first wife, Adeline Fisher. Her poetry here deals with nature and spirituality, and is contemplative and intimate in mood. Of course, that description would suit a sizable corner of Vaughan Williams instrumental output, for example The Lark Ascending (1914; rev. 1920), or In the Fen Country (1904; rev. 1935). Thus, the composer found the texts much akin to his own artistic inclinations and produced four atmospheric and imaginative songs for voice and piano accompaniment.
The first, "Motion and Stillness," is marked Lento and lasts but a minute and a half. Its piano accompaniment is absolutely Debussy-like in sound, though not in spirit, and its vocal line is hypnotic in its slow and dark lilt. The text speaks of lifeless and monotonous patterns and activities within nature. In the end, Vaughan Williams captures well the delicate coldness of the poetry, creating a haunting picture of gloom. The ensuing song, "Four Nights," marked Andante, is brighter in the first half, having a celestial mood in its lovely theme and ascending contours. The text begins, "O when I shut my eyes in spring/A choir of heaven's swans I see." The music becomes a bit intense and anxious when the poet speaks of autumn, then turns slower and darker for thoughts on winter.
The third song in the set, "The New Ghost," bears the markings Tempo rubato (senza mizura). It is indeed ghostly in mood, having that desolate sense often found in later Vaughan Williams works such as the Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No. 7; 1949 - 1952). The piano accompaniment is sparse, especially in the opening verse, and the vocal line offers a haunting melody whose moments of yearning in the upper ranges seem expressions of the most spiritual emotions. The text tells of the death of a good man who "went to meet his Lord." This is both thematically and harmonically the most profound song in the set. At five minutes, it is also the longest. The closing item here is "The Water Mill," which offers contrast to its siblings most obviously in its Allegretto tranquillo marking. But its mood is bright and sunny throughout as well, and the piano accompaniment playful and rhythmic, evoking busy images of the flowing water and whirring mill wheel. The vocal line is also attractive in its chipper innocence and infectious bounce.
In sum, this collection of songs is most attractive and despite the Impressionistic sonorities in the accompaniment of the first, is pure Vaughan Williams at or near his best.