Wednesday, June 17, 2009

She Moved Through the Fair

Sometimes I think about the times when the world still knew darkness. Before electricity and 24-hour light. Before canned human company was no farther than the click of a television or radio. Generations linked hands across the night with stories, memories, art, and songs passed by the flickering spell of a fire. Folk songs feel like voices from that darkness, like some mysterious communication of lyric and tune speaking the heart of a culture, speaking the soul of humanity itself.

Sometimes I listen to these old, traditional songs and try to wrap myself in that collective voice. I try to understand the greater words and what deep human chords made it endure the grinding passage of years.

Fall back into the darkness as you listen to She Moves Through the Fair. What is captured here? What is transcending so many eras, homelands, and human conditions? I hear the stoic sadness in the musical key.* I hear the inherent distance in love. And I hear the beautiful longing to bridge the spaces separating us, and to finally have what can never be quite possessed.

What does the voice sing to you?

My love said to me
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kind
Then she stepped away from me
And this she did say
"It will not be long love,
'Til our wedding day."

She stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there
She went away homeward
With one star awake
As the swan in the evening
Moves over the lake

I dreamt it last night
That my true love came in
So softly she entered
Her feet made no din
She came close beside me
And this she did say
"It will not be long love,
'Til our wedding day."

(For a particularly haunting version of the song by Sinead O'Connor, click HERE.)

*The Mixolydian Mode. Compared to the major scale, its seventh note is diminished by a half tone. It's the scale of the bagpipes and other old ear-tuned instruments. The lowered seventh makes the low grace notes sound more pleasing. For example, you can hear it in "mother" in the line "my mother won't mind."


Linda S. Socha said...

This is so beautifully written and I hear the insights and know them to be true. The longing for unity, connection and literally what it feels like to be inside the skin of another

Leatherdykeuk said...

I've always loved this. My daughter-in-law sang it at my wedding.

Vesper said...

I often think and long for those times when real art and human contact filled the souls and not television.

A great, beautiful post, Jason.

the walking man said...

Industrialization has destroyed much of what used to be called humanity.

Catvibe said...

Both versions are gorgeously haunting. There is something in celtic music that rings through my cells like a memory of ancestors.

Also, because there is a thunderstorm happening right now, I'm already in the mood for being haunted, so the song really hits me.

I love that in Ireland, when people sing in a pub, everything gets silent and everyone listens. Everyone from Ireland has a particular song that they sing, and they are known in the towns they live in for that song. Here, you have to have some kind of special personality to get up and sing in front of people, and there is a lot of judgment about it that stifles folks. It makes me sad. Singing is for everyone, not just a select few, and I love the beauty of a community that listens, makes a point to listen, to each rendition anew. There is a little bit of that here in the Appalachian traditions, and I think that it is borne from the Celtic ones, if you go back far enough.

Shadow said...

your poem is SWEET!

just btw, last year in january we had a month of constant load shedding, and ended up a few nights without power. and even though it was summer and darkness took it's time, and fortunately dinner could be enjoyed at the bbq, it did bring to mind, wonderings, of what people used to do, without all the electronic entertainment available to us now. especially during winter, when daylight hours extended this time even more.... nice post!

Sarah Hina said...

I love Loreena's version, but Sinead's more stripped down rendition is truly bracing. Wow.

The third verse you cite here is like being on the other side of a bridge, from that evening's swan lake. Something terrible has happened in the interim. And I see her moving like a ghost into his room, where her words are no longer a vivid promise, but a paler lament. And yet the words still echo with immense strength.

A beautiful post, Jason. You're right about these songs, and what they conjure inside of us. The music of the ages.

Aniket said...

I love Celtic... and have been a fan of Loreena ever since you guided me to her musical version of 'The Highwayman'. Have listened to it a hundred times since then.

Thanks for sharing the beautiful things out there.

Though I would love that earthy feeling and stories by the elders. But I don't regret the technological evolution, for I would never have been able to hear your stories and others' too for that matter.

The word has now become much easier to explore. One may not get the true essence of a personal touch, but I would take that bargain.

Frank Sinatra, Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette, Belle & Sebastian, Kimya Dawson, John Lennon, Enya...they have ligtened up my days so many times. I would have not known them in old times. Would definitely had missed out on a lot.

But then, may be its just me.

Margaret said...

Reading this post Jason and listening to the song just brought my Father to mind.

Whenever I sit with him he tells me about the wonderful olden days in Ireland when they had nothing but music. It brought them together. They'd all meet up in one of the houses for a night of singing and dancing. A few pints of guinness and a man playing the "spoons", another on the fiddle. That's all they needed.
The music they played just got to your soul.
The words of each song were more than just words.
I've enjoyed quite a few of these nights too and know how deep these lyrics are. They touch your inner core. They give you a feeling of belonging, you're just one of them. They'd do anything for you and likewise, you'd do anything for them.

I don't think the generation of today have this immense feeling of togetherness and belonging.

Anonymous said...

Linda, you hear it too. Almost as if the footsteps of every ancestor within us is whispering words across the uncrossable distance.

Leatherdykeuk, that must be such a sweet memory. :)

Vesper, there are reminants of the ancient still with us today. I hear it in this tune.

Walking Man, I'm not so much knocking modernization here, but celebrating that despite the great barriors between us and those lost generations, folk songs and other oral traditions passed to us and endured.

Catvibe, your comment was more beautiful than the post. I'm grateful for it. Thank you for inviting us into that pub for a glimpse of an evening. The intimacy and comfort of it. I'm better for having heard your words.

Shadow, we spend time in the Pennsylvania moutains off grid. It's a wonderful experience to remind us of the true realties. However, we don't have the oral traditions to perpetuate. Sometimes I do read Native American stories to the kids to feel what it must have been like.

Sarah, at the end of Sinead's version I can barely breathe. I thought Loreena made the song live, but then when I saw Sinead, I agree, wow. Your intuition is correct. Many versions of the song make it clear that the love is dead in the final stanza. She/he is a ghost of our own creation. I'm fascinated by the gentle themes of distance and separateness and sadness in the lyrics. And yet the yearning is palpable.

Aniket, I'm with you in celebrating all that you mention in your comment! I didn't really intend this post to be anti-modernization. These folk songs are a very special gift. They have sparked something in us which caused them to be preserved in the oral traditions. My question is why. What has been captured in this tune that makes us keep going back to contemplate the words?

Margaret, that was a beautiful contemplation. I think we've fragmented in our connections. Overload and pressures make us more individualistic. Also, families are physically scattered. I'm an only child. The kind of connections your father knew seems beautiful, but very outside of my world.

the walking man said...

Jason...The jobs that used to be doe by men are now done by machines, the reliance on wit for story telling is now done by formula. Industrialization was supposed to help us but the more I think of the modern world the less i think of our new societies.

Woman in a Window said...

So much we've gained and so much we've lost though time. But something recaptured here too, for me. Loreena and what she granted me many moons ago. What a sweet reminder of a spirit I once had, and will find once again.