Sunshine presents a powerfully contradictory image. On one level, it is a sketch of a “placid" natural setting of a pond surrounded by flowers. But her description leaves the distinct impression of menace. The leaves are “blade-like." “Sharp gold wire" is a beautiful but cold image that seems both brilliant and dangerous. Even the title “sunshine" suggests both glowing warmth and oppressive heat.
The music also oscillates between warm lushness and cold precision. The opening counterpoint contains both stable perfect intervals and biting (though still diatonic) dissonances. The two sopranos are instructed to stand as far apart onstage as possible to create a stereophonic effect. Although their music is always very similar, it is nonetheless slightly apart – either in time or interval – as though one is a slightly distorted reflection of the other.
The pool is edged with the blade-like leaves of irises.
If I throw a stone into the placid water
It suddenly stiffens into rings and wings
Of sharp gold wire.
-Amy Lowell (1874-1925)