A person I know as a poet told me at a reading that he was playing with his Jazz combo on Sunday, assuming (rightly) that there would be some interest on my part. I told him I wasn’t sure if I could attend, since I live in a household with two distressed persons. They nodded as if they understood.
If you’ve noticed that this Project has been more intermittent, that’s much of the reason. The typical post here starts with looking for interesting texts, researching a bit about their context, composing, playing and recording the music, and then finally these blog entries about my encounters with the poems and the process of presenting them. The order of these events isn’t set in stone, occasionally there are gaps between steps, but it’s also common for each step to take an open-ended block of concentration. My desires to support those I love, their needs for quiet, and frankly, my unease held in common with theirs, has made that kind of focus rare for several months, wearing down what storehouse of steps I have for new pieces of work.
In place of that, I’ve taken up two things that more easily fill the odd-lots moments of time that come to me. I’ve increased Twitter promotion of the over 650 pieces in our Parlando Project archives found here.* I’m doing that enough that I’m probably seen by some as an ignorable nag by now, and the results so far in drawing traffic are only slightly better than my attempts on Twitter made during last National Poetry Month. Still this substitute effort to promote the various ways that music and words can combine makes me feel like I’m not abandoning this Project’s goals.
The other activity is reading, which of course has always been part of the Project, but I speak of reading that isn’t directly tied to finding a new piece or understanding its contexts. I’m mostly reading books about musicians, music, or poets for pleasure and as a reset from life stress.
But enough about me and troubles that aren’t yours. This post is getting tardy in getting to today’s work by William Butler Yeats. His “A Fairy Song” comes from a fairy story told in a verse play from early in Yeats career. Most recently we’ve presented a later Yeats poem “A Coat” in which Yeats is looking askance at this sort of earlier work and at those who chose to copy his early style. “A Fairy Song” is very pretty, and you could enjoy it just as fantasy word-music — decoration not declaration or anything much. I enjoyed the poem from first reading on that basis. In times of trouble, why not some dancing fantasy?
Easy chords & simple arrangement, and like many of my Parlando Project pieces, offered here in case other singers want to sing it.
However, after waking in the middle of the night last night I read the play The Land of Hearts Desire that this poem appears in twice, introduced inside the play by a fairy child. Let me quickly summarize the plot: a young bride is beguiled to take in a beautiful child who comes upon their rural poor Irish cottage at night. She gives the child food and warmth, and in return the child reminds her that her loving marriage means bondage to grinding tasks of life and family duties that will have no release until death — but if the young bride comes away with the beautiful child to the otherland of the faery, they will have nothing but carefree joy.
It’s a commonplace that fairy stories have psychological depth, and so to my mind in the middle of my night, I was ready to take this one in beyond idle fantasy. I hold for the loving marriage. I hold for duty. Ever the freedom and fate for breakage, ever the poverty or wealth of what we can give and bring — beside and knowing that — I’m for that above music and magic. And readers, I love music and poetry a great deal.
That poet who plays saxophone in his jazz combo? I waited until an hour before the show started, things were clear, I went off and saw them play. I was worried: jazz plus poetry is a formula that might each reduce the additive audience, but an appreciative 50 or so showed up scattered about the theater. A stranger a couple of seats over thought the keyboard player sang like Chet Baker — and yes he did. The playing was fine, and at my age I might have danced, but the fixed theater seat aisles would have kept a dancing ring from forming.
The next day I had what turned out to be a bit over an hour to find music from “The wind that blows out the gates of the day.”** I did so and quickly recorded this simple setting with acoustic guitar of Yeats’ “A Fairy Song.” You can hear it with the player gadget below. No gadget seen? This highlighted link will play it too.
*If you’re following the Elon-Musk-takes-Twitter farce of Internet doors opening and closing amid much bumbling, you may be curious about my take on this. No time today. There are some interesting people there, including a small poetry community — that size like all poetry communities. Twitter’s design, which long predates Musk, is conducive to folks like me with unknown blocks of time from a few minutes to sleepless doomscrolling hours. I personally find it impossible to keep up with WordPress on my phone, even though I treasure the blogs I follow when I can find time at a larger computer screen.
**If you’re interested in a deep dive into the Irish faery mythology that Yeats was using in his play and poem, this web page will give you quite a bit to go on.