Music Mondays: Poetry & Song
Welcome to another installment of Music Mondays at Our Hearts are Restless! In honor of St. Patrick's Day this month, (can you believe it's March already?) I thought I'd bring a couple of my favorite songs to your attention. Two of my favorite Celtic groups are Scythian, an Irish/Ukrainian band started by a handful of good Catholic boys from Steubenville, and The High Kings, a set of four brilliant Celtic musicians with a knack for lovely harmonies.
Scythian's seven-album discography is packed with quirky original pieces, classic Celtic tunes, and lively Eastern Europe-inspired melodies. Recently, I discovered that a song of theirs, which had quickly captured my attention on Spotify, was actually a setting of a seventeenth century poem by the English poet Edmund Waller. The poem speaks to a rose, while giving a lecture to a maiden on the value of her beauty: to be enjoyed by herself and others, but ultimately ended by death. Scythian's setting of the poem fits the rhythm of the lines quite perfectly.
Go, Lovely Rose, by Edmund Waller (1606-1687)
Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that’s young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.
Then die—that sheThe High Kings are a bit more traditional in their repertoire. Although they have a number of original pieces, especially in their most recent album Friends for Life, all their songs are marked by a clean, instrumental Celtic feel and layered harmonies. I started listening to their music again recently, and fell in love with a song on their album Memory Lane, "On Raglan Road". Curious about the lyrics, I looked up the history of the poem. Apparently, Patrick Kavanagh liked to write homely, down-to-earth poetry. His girlfriend at the time made fun of his choice of topics, so he broke up with her and wrote this poem, which was later set to an older Irish melody.
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!
On Raglan Road, by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May.
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking nowPoetry and song are, by nature, closely entwined; in a certain sense, poetry is the beauty of music set in words. When the two come together, each lends to the other a bit of its own beauty. When well-set, music can use the rhythm of a poem to make the words and sense of the work more intelligible.
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.
Enjoy these two examples of the beauty of words and music!