Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Adventures in Hymnwriting, Part Whatever

I still haven't tried out my previous hymns on my brother and his fiancee. I'm not totally satisfied with them. So I decided I ought to try again. Since I'd been thinking about slow airs and hymns (see below), I ended up writing a real old-style love song based on the Song of Songs. It's to the tune of "For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name", which is clearly one of the most beautiful tunes ever written. (The song's not bad, either. It's in Irish or the English translation, and is from the POV of a man who doesn't yet have the money to marry his love and is thus keeping properly quiet about who she is. He finds a way to praise her anyway.)

The surprising thing was just how easy it was to write. I know the name "Song of Songs" is just a way of saying "Best Song Ever", but you could almost take it literally. Again and again, the standard plotlines and similes of folk love songs appear or intertwine. Maybe
they were new then and maybe they weren't, but it certainly sounds a lot like one of those collisions of "Red is the Rose" with "The Water Is Wide", where you pick out all the prettiest verses and squeeze a story out of them. I was really tempted in the verse about waking up and finding that your love wasn't really there to quote directly from "Rainbow Willow":

Last night I dreamed of my true love.

All in my arms I held her;

When I awoke it was no such thing.

I was forced to live without her.

("Rainbow Willow" or "Locks and Bars" is a guy's song, actually. He goes to see his love and finds her locked up by her cruel relatives, so he has to fight to free her.)

The other interesting thing is how easily the song slipped into the woman's POV, with the guy and the daughters of Jerusalem just being quoted. To be honest, including "he said" and "they said" into this kind of song is a bit of a wimpout, since the audience should be
able to tell what you mean just from the way you sing it. (I suspect that if the Song of Songs was being sung to us by its original performers, all the changes of voice and storylines would be easy to understand.) But modern audiences aren't accustomed to having the same person sing both (or three) sides of the story, any more than they're accustomed to men and women singing songs from the opposite gender's POV. (Which is dead common in Ireland and Scotland.) So I wimped out. I'm not proud.

Anyway, this is obviously not a hymn, per se, but since I'm trying to find stuff to sing before the Nuptial Mass, anyway, that shouldn't matter. What does matter is that the last verse is not good yet, and doesn't really do justice to Chapter 8. Oh, well. It'll get there. I also have to check this against other Bible translations, as I couldn't find my own
Bible last night and had to go by Douay-Rheims online. That'll probably clarify what the last verse should be (which probably will become two verses, frankly). It would be nice to get in one more refrain of "Jerusalem's daughters" and another "sweet lilies". (Although
spice must clearly be included to be scriptural.);) It would really be good if I could get in that last apple tree reference (which I'm guessing is about Eden). Theft vs. gift is a really good contrast. (And if you want to think of the apple as being about sex, as so many do, stealing vs. gift makes Eve all about forcing there's a picture of our foremothers that all the matriarchal feminists wouldn't like. But anyway.) I'm really sorry I couldn't get in "comfort me with apples", by the way, but I just couldn't manage it. Yet.

The Apple Tree
Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, after the Song of Songs
Music: "Ar Eirinn ni nEosfainn Ce Hi", Irish Trad.
("For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name")

If men were the woods, he'd be the only apple tree.
If they were vineyards, he's the cypress taller than the vines.
And his left hand's under my head, holding me,
And in his shade, he gives me his fruit so fine.
And he says I'm a lily among thorns,
And he says, "See how you're lovely, with your eyes like doves."
Though I'm tanned with the work, and my brothers give me scorn.
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.

My love leaps mountains, and my love skips over hills.
Like a young deer, he is peering out behind the wall.
Can you hear him? "Hurry, get up, if you will,
Oh, my love, my dove, my lovely one," he calls.
"For the winter's gone, the rain's over and done,
And the flowers bloom, and figs are green upon the tree.
My dove nesting in the cracked rocks, rise and come."
And I'll go where he's browsing all among the sweet lilies.

I dreamed, but I woke up. My soul's love was not with me.
I got up and asked all of the guard if they had seen him roam.
Then I found him, and I would not set him free
Until I'd brought him back to the one who bore me's home.
He said, "Who's as lovely as the dawn of day,
Bright as the sun, fair as the moon that's shining up above?
Impressive as armies? Turn your eyes, or I'll run away!"
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.

He came and called to me, "Let me in, I'm damp with dew!"
I said, "I'm undressed now. Should I get up now and put them on?"
He reached through the keyhole, and his touch thrilled me through.
But when I opened the door, oh, my love had turned and gone.
Though I called, he wouldn't answer any plea.
The guards they found me looking for my love
And they struck me, and they took my veil from me.
Jerusalem's daughters, won't you help find my love?

You ask how you'll know him? Among thousands, I would look
For hair black as ravens, and his eyes as gray as milk-washed doves
That sit beside streams, and that nest by little brooks.
Jerusalem's daughters, that's my friend and my true love.
And you ask where my love has gone away,
And you say that you will seek him there with me.
O my love's gone to his spice garden today.
I'll go where he's browsing all among the sweet lilies.

Let's go to the fields, love, let's see what my vineyards hold.
Let's go to my garden, where the blossom's set upon the tree.
Inside our gates, there's every fruit both new and old,
I've kept them for you, love, come and go there with me.
Like a seal, put me on _your_ arm and your heart.
Love is strong as death, and can't be drowned by floods.
I'm a wall and a tower; I'm at peace now; we won't part.
Jerusalem's daughters, don't you dare wake my love.


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