Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 19

Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 19 Anything Can Happen, She Moved Through the Fair, Dust and Dreams

Welcome to Letters from Quotidia Postscripts Episode 19– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the Letters, Postcards and Postscripts from Quotidia published since the beginning of 2021. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Horace, in Book 1, Ode 34, with the title, Fortune’s Changes exclaims, Once I wandered, an expert in crazy wisdom,/a scant and infrequent adorer of gods,/now I’m forced to set sail and return,/to go back to the paths I abandoned. In these lines, Horace recounts a trajectory followed by many before him, and, also, legions in the ages after he set down these words. He lived in interesting times afforded by his citizenship in the Rome of Emperor Augustus. Even with the patronage of Maecenas, friend, and adviser to the Emperor, Horace learned that nothing was certain in the murky swirling intrigues of Roman politics.

The last lines of his Ode describe the arbitrary nature of fate, of Fortune, The god has the power to replace the highest/with the lowest, bring down the famous, and raise/the obscure to the heights. And greedy Fortune/with her shrill whirring, carries away/the crown and delights in setting it, there. Two millennia later, Irish poet Seamus Heaney, shaken by the events of 9/11, wrote his poem, Anything Can Happen based on this Ode. Anything can happen, the tallest towers/Be overturned, those in high places daunted,/Those overlooked regarded./ He talks of Fortune as a bird of prey, tearing the crest off one,/Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Recognising that nothing will ever be the same again he ends the poem with the lines, Capstones shift, nothing resettles right./Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away. Time and mortality were themes Horace returned to in Ode seven of the fourth book, The swift hour and the brief prime of the year/Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye./Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring/Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers/Comes autumn, with his apples scattering;/Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs./ But oh, whate’er the sky-led seasons mar,/Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams:…we are dust and dreams.

A. E Housman, classical scholar, and poet considered this poem from which these lines are taken to be the most beautiful in ancient literature. And these lines speak to me more and more as the years pass. I first read Heaney as a student at Trench House, Belfast, where he had lectured just a few years before I enrolled there in the autumn term of 1968. After reading District and Circle, the collection from which Anything Can Happen is taken, I wrote this song of the same name in 2007 and later made it part of Letters From Quotidia, Episode 67 when I recorded these podcasts, starting last year in January 2021. Here is my song, Anything Can Happen, [insert song]  

She Moved Through the Fair is a traditional Irish folk song, which exists in a number of versions and has been recorded scores of times. The narrator watches his lover move away from him through the fair, after she tells him that since her parents approve of him, regardless of means, it will not be long, love, till our wedding day. She returns as a ghost at night and repeats the words it will not be long, love, till our wedding day, intimating her own tragic death and the couple’s possible reunion after death. Probably first collected in County Donegal by the Longford poet Padraic Colum, the lyrics were first published in Hughes’ Irish Country Songs by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909. In a letter published in The Irish Times in 1970,

Colum stated that he was the author of all but the final verse. He also said that he had forgotten to include a penultimate verse that referenced her death, but many artists don’t include this on the grounds that it is superfluous. And I must say, I agree. There have been many variants of the lyrics and melody collected over the years. Scottish tenor Canon Sydney MacEwan recorded the song in 1936 and from that time a succession of artists has given the song their imprimatur including John McCormack, Pete Seeger (about whom I will have more to say later), Dominic Behan, Richard Thompson, Sinead O’Connor, and Mary Black.

Lots of listeners find it spooky that she appears to him as a ghost in the final verse. But do you know what I find even more spooky? That her parents, from a peasant background, would have approved of any man lacking in resources of land, livestock, or cash money. But it is a pleasant thought and probably has elements of wish-fulfilment in it. Nonetheless, the melody and words have long appealed to me.

Just a few words on Padraig Colum who collected this song. He was a noted Irish writer who travelled widely, forming a friendship with Robert Frost when he moved to New York in 1914. He was contracted to Macmillan’s where he published a score of books including those on folk mythology and he explored remote areas of the Hawaiian Islands in 1922 where he had been contracted to set down myths from his research there. He also lived in France between 1930-1933 where he befriended James Joyce and in 1962, he became President of the James Joyce Tower Society in Dublin. In June 1970 he suffered a stroke and spent his remaining years in a nursing home where he died in 1972.

Before I play you my rendition of the song, here is his poem, Across The Door. The fiddles were playing and playing,/The couples were out on the floor;/From converse and dancing he drew me,/And across the door.//Ah! strange were the dim, wide meadows,/And strange was the cloud-strewn sky,/And strange in the meadows the corncrakes/,And they making cry!//The hawthorn bloom was by us,/Around us the breath of the south/White hawthorn, strange in the night-time/His kiss on my mouth! [insert song]

I’m going to finish this second-from-last podcast by using lines from the A. E. Housman translation of the Horatian Ode I quoted earlier as bookend-verses for some rather well-known lines from Ecclesiastes chapter 3 which Pete Seeger used to such great effect in his phenomenal co-written hit, Turn Turn Turn. His co-writer (who, in fact, wrote the bulk of the lyrics) has been variously credited as King Solomon, or some unknown scribe or scribes, or for those who revere the Bible as the word of God, the co-writer would then be- God, I suppose. The mash-up of the philosophy of the Graeco-Roman worlds with the inspired verse of the Judaic text appeals to me.

That Pete Seeger, in 1999 donated 45% of the royalties to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions who describe themselves as “an Israeli peace and human rights organization dedicated to ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories and achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”, shows us how thoroughly decent this man was in his advocacy of peace and justice in the world over a long life which ended in 2014 with his death at age 94. Vale Pete Seeger. And my aim here is not hubristic- as I do not want to incur the wrath of the gods, or, indeed, God! Rather, it is to celebrate the individual caught in the coils of time and circumstance and to echo the pleas for peace which become more urgent and necessary with every day that passes. The title of this song is Dust and Dreams. [insert song]

Penultimate post done and dusted. Next week you may expect more of the same- a potpourri of poetry, song, and discursive musings but until then, here is a poem entitled Peace on Earth by William Carlos Williams, The Archer is wake!/The Swan is flying!/Gold against blue/An Arrow is lying./There is hunting in heaven—/Sleep safe till tomorrow.//The Bears are abroad!/The Eagle is screaming!/Gold against blue/Their eyes are gleaming!/Sleep!/ Sleep safe till tomorrow.//The Sisters lie/With their arms intertwining/;Gold against blue/Their hair is shining!/The Serpent writhes!/Orion is listening!/Gold against blue/His sword is glistening!/Sleep!/There is hunting in heaven—/Sleep safe till tomorrow. Does the poem reassure? I’m not so sure…but I always value poets over politicians.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

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