Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Romantic Imagery In Celtic Folk Songs:"She Moved Through The Fair"

There is something special in the moods created by Irish and Scottish romantic folk songs. The subject matter of lost love, dead or dying lovers, ghosts of lost loves, forbidden love is perfectly wedded to the mournful accompanying music-especially with its "missing" or skipped notes in a rising scale and the mixolydian mode.

Certainly Ireland and Scotland have had histories which including pillage, rapine, miserable weather, invasion, poverty, and bagpipes. All of which, and much more of course, have contributed to their sad (and lovely) imagery and music. This musical tradition seems impossible to have arisen from sunnier climes e.g. Greece of Italy so there is something unique and special for which those of a romantic nature, such as myself, are truly appreciative.

The traditional Irish folk song, which to me perfectly illustrates all that is sad and lovely celtic music and lyrics is "She Moved through The Fair." This song seems to have the lot, a beautiful young girl, the promise of lasting love, a pastoral setting death of the young maiden on her wedding eve and of course her ghostly apparition which hints that the suitor will follow her shortly into the ghostly world where they will never be separated.

The third and fourth verses are packed full of wonderful imagery. A country fair with all its stalls, wares and colors can be clearly seen in the minds eye and the heroine watched as she carries her basket from one stall to the other. In a brilliant line the passage of time is evoked by her leaving "with one star awake" and her youth and grace is compared to a swan gliding over a lake.

The romantic imagery is not damaged by the line "my father won't slight you for your lack of kind" as it is not indicated that the suitor is "unkind" rather that he is poor. "Kind" in this context means goods or property, which in fact adds to the romantic imagery at play.

My favorite version is by Orriel Smith. Orriel sings the song in a pure and beautiful tone and every word is perfectly sounded. Her handling of the  "ghost scene is particularly well executed, with her subtle but precise sounding of the last "wedding day" words, which imparts an ever so slightly otherwordly, chilling atmosphere.

She Moved Through The Fair     

My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kind.
And she laid her hand on me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,                 Pictured:                 
Till our wedding day                     Orriel & me
As she stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she turned homeward,
With one star awake,
Like the swan in the evening
Moves over the lake.
The people were saying,
No two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear.
Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.


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