Monday, April 14, 2014

Songs of the Simple Folk

This poem refers to the above song about the Jacobite Rising (and another which I will link later) which I used to play on my guitar back in the day, and may not make much sense if you have never heard it. (It may not make much sense even if you have.)
 Lyrics  are by the Scots poet Robert Burns(1794).

Songs of the Simple Folk

In the darkness before morning
in the cawing of the starling
in the woodlands cold and longing
singing 'Charlie is my darling'
to the deaf and careless girls

all carried in the songs,
their half-forgotten curls
tossed broken on the South Coast
where the lion
still rules the barranca,
where the long dying
of their fulsome,
cumbersome flying

takes place in a space
cluttered, ruined, and
dirty with  thinking,
buying, selling the heady taste
of unnatural waste
from the winepress of loss,
all lost but your face.

Cell by cell the hard memory twists and unplugs
cords dangle forlorn, post-umbilically drear.
Another day's born to the same gang of thugs
but Charlie's still my darlin, my darlin,
Charlie's still my darlin, the young chevalier.

~April 2014

The other folk song referred to is The South Coast (lyrics),  and you can hear a classic if diffuse, mostly spoken version of it below by the great, obscure and idiosyncratic  Ramblin Jack Elliot:

Here's a rather more sprightly modern version of Charlie:

I am not linking this poem anywhere as it is purely a piece of self-indulgence during this month of poetic slog. I wrote it for me, I had fun with it and if anyone else enjoys it, that is sheer gravy. ;_)


  1. If Wally Stevens was a folkie, this tune might fit his guitar. An interesting construction, stanzas 1 and 4 wrapping around 2 and 3 like two separate singers or songs, perhaps one the outer skin of the inner two, or the inner ear. Didn't know you played guitar. How long has yours been sitting dormant?

    1. I gave my Martin to my son when he was in his teens. I've not played since then. I'm sure it's in a pawn shop somewhere now. It was a beauty, too--a small rosewood model whose number escapes my memory(00-17?), perfect for a woman's hand. O well. thanks for reading, B. I still sing, even if I don't play. ;_)

  2. I like the 2nd version of Charlie - what a hoot!

    The first stanza and the second until 'lion' fit into the cadence of the song, it seems, before the narrator's voice veers out of merriment and into the somber reflection that young Charlie has ridden off on his cheval, into the past.

    And having been absent myself of late, I knew I had to pay your corral a visit at some length. :) ~

    1. Yes, Charles Stuart was pretty much a loser at everything but 'kenning hae ta please a Hieland lass..' I think that's part of why the song always felt personal for me--blind to the faults and so forth. That is a very spirited rendition, too. ;_) Thanks for bearing with me in my flashback to 1965.

  3. Sometimes our poems come out in shapes we don't recognize yet. Call them first drafts. There's a jewel in here, the way the folk song jangles along, never missing its beat, from the first drink of day to the heartbreak of night. "Another day's born to the same gang of thugs" - that's a good one.

    I found 'The South Coast' compelling, had never heard it before. Guy wins an innocent young girl in a card game, and it somehow ends up being a love song, then a tragedy.

    1. Yes, shorn of the saccharine elements--or possible because of them--it's a stark tragedy, and the chorus has haunted me for years--you can win at the card game--win everything, but the lion still rules, and the end is predetermined. Anyway, I agree--this I find difficult to untangle myself, as its full of those undigested bits of the past that are the compost for poems--thanks for reading Mark, and for your insights. Elliot is the original cowboy poet-singer(despite being born a New York Jew)--mentored by Woody Guthrie, and all that.

  4. It's been a while since I thought of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but this song brought his story back to me. Your poem places it all into a different and very personal context.

    1. It's a sad chapter in the British version of Game of Thrones--he bears a heavy load of death and slaughter on his charming, reckless shoulders. Thanks for reading, Kerry--I appreciate it.

  5. ha. we have to indulge ourselves for fear we will lose the fun of it in our rush to create....despite it all we still have song that can carry us through the darkest days you know....sing on hedge....

  6. "post-umbilically drear." I am just in awe.

  7. Sorry--I've been terribly busy today and visited this several times and listened to the songs, though must relisten--

    Well to me this has a lot to do with myth and archetype and romanticism and fantasy and we long for--even chivalry--how we in the proletariat long for it--and are a bit scooped up and used by it, maybe, still we love the filigree of a fleur de lis and the grand and beautiful gesture--and the whole idea of bonni-ness--and nobility--and look what we wake up to instead--the unnatural waste and the wine-press of loss--you may know I love Terry Pratchett-- in one of the books, the people all long for a king! One with a flashy sword who can cure baldness. (Perhaps better to buy a good hair tonic, or better still, enjoy baldness! As long as it's not caused by chemo.) You see I am rambling here--but it's the ramble your poem has started--

    I especially like all the "ing" endings--and the drear--all works for the Scottish feel so wonderfully.


  8. Way to spice up the middle of a long writing month! I'd love to hear this read/sung by its author.

  9. PS_ I thought poem fun and not self-indulgent. (What is poetry but self-indulgence in a way? We are not writing computer manuals that could actually be understood by people? Which is my idea of potentially useful writing. Ha.)

    1. Laffin. I would be a complete failure at writing a computer manual. Now, a horror comic...;_) thanks, k. The points you make in your first comment are so true, too--we want to see nobility, courage, and all sorts of other gilt on the gingerbread, to believe that whole 'to whom much is given, much is expected' thing--sometimes we even get it, but mostly,Charlie is just getting off in the heather and then getting high while the highlanders fight and die.

    2. Yes-- but they sure made good music while doing it. k.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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