I Saw the Cherubim
An a cappella setting for mixed chorus of two sonnets by English painter and poet Roger Wagner. There is a version with orchestral accompaniment.

Duration: 6'
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view score.
Voicing/Instrumentation - Vocal Version

Mixed Chorus (a cappella, divisi, no solos)
Voicing/Instrumentation - Chamber Version
Mixed Chorus (divisi, no solos)

1 Flute
1 Oboe
1 Clarinet
1 Bassoon
2 French Horns
Roger Wagner is an Oxford painter and poet born in 1957. His paintings have been shown in many solo and group exhibitions and are part of the NatWest Collection London, The Ashmolean Museum Oxford, and The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. His work has appeared in several publications including Forms of Transcendence: The Art of Roger Wagner. Wagner’s haunting Fire Sonnets were published in 1984 with accompanying illustrations by the poet. The mystical texts are apocalyptic, yet rich with striking images of the natural world and shared common life. The world’s end is envisioned both as unendurable fire and a “trysting place where earth and heaven meet.” The musical setting underscores this dual imagery, counterbalancing the onomatopoeic intoning of bells with lyrical lines over rich harmonies, “filled with passionate desire.”
Fire Sonnets
Roger Wagner


The harvest is the end of the world;
and the reapers are angels
     Matthew 13 v39

I saw the cherubim one summer’s night
Reaping it seemed a field of endless wheat.
I heard their voices through the fading light
Wild, strange and yet intolerably sweet.
The hour such beauty first was born on earth
The dawn of judgment had that hour begun
For some would not endure love’s second birth
Preferring their own darkness to that sun.
And still love’s sun must rise upon our night
For nothing can be hidden from its heat;
And in that summer evening’s fading light
I saw his angels gather in the wheat:
Like beaten gold their beauty smote the air
And tongues of flame were streaming in their hair.


And tongues of flame were streaming in their hair
And flames of love were dancing in the heat
And all who saw that harvest cried ”beware,
They tread upon those fields with burning feet!”
Yet some have entertained them unaware
And with unearthly guests sat down to eat
And found that meal became itself a prayer
A trysting place where earth and heaven meet.
As in a dream once Jacob saw a stair
With fire-bright angels moving up and down
And dreaming saw the gate of heaven where
The Lord himself stood as that stairway’s crown:
Whose love is filled with passionate desire
That makes his angels flames of burning fire.

Copyright 1984 by Roger Wagner. Used by permission.
Commission & Performance History
I Saw the Cherubim was commissioned by Stan Mattson and the C. S. Lewis Foundation for performance at its Oxbridge 2011 Conference. The work was premiered at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford on 29 July by the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute Chorale, directed by John Dickson.