Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Merchant sings Causley

Go here for an interview with Natalie Merchant and then a video of her singing a children’s poem by Charles Causley, a wondrous and a very underrated poet from Cornwall who died a few years ago. And, if you are curious, here are the words of the ballad Natalie Merchant sings:

Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience

I had a silver penny
And an apricot tree
And I said to the sailor
On the white quay

'Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

A fez from Algeria
An Arab drum to beat
A little gilt sword
And a parakeet?'

And he smiled and he kissed me
As strong as death
And I saw his red tongue
And I felt his sweet breath

'You may keep your penny
And your apricot tree
And I'll bring your presents
Back from the sea.'

O, the ship dipped down
On the rim of the sky
And I waited while three
Long summers went by

Then one steel morning
On the white quay
I saw a grey ship
Come in from the sea

Slowly she came
Across the bay
For her flashing rigging
Was shot away

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

Slowly she came
In the path of the sun
And I heard the sound
Of a distant gun

And a stranger came running
Up to me
From the deck of the ship
And he said, said he

'O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

I've a plum-coloured fez
And a drum for thee
And a sword and a parakeet
From over the sea.

'O where is the sailor
With the bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children's toys?'
*
And if you want to know how the snow is going up here, well, it's as much snow as in a fairy tale. As I said elsewhere, there's a mound as big as a coffin on the iron table in the yard, and here's to hoping that King Winter is melting inside.
*
The medieval image is all Gode Cookery courtesye: http://www.godecookery.com/clipart/misc/clmisc.htm

3 comments:

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  2. Natalie Merchant and this album are a discovery for me. What a fantastic treasure trove of poetry she had there to spin her songs from. The interview is illuminating and the voice spellbinding.

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  3. Yes, it's a very interesting idea for a collection.

    Oh, I dearly love Charles Causley and regret that I never sent him a fan letter before he died. Ditto for Kathleen Raine.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.