Saturday, April 3, 2010

The earworm of the Easter Rising

I woke up this morning vaguely aware that Easter is tomorrow, but the truth is that Easter has very little traction for me--I like biting the heads off peeps with Nick, but after that Easter's over. But that song, that terrible, beautiful song about the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin has haunted me all day.

One of the most damaging, thrilling, and upsetting renditions of "Foggy Dew" is by Sinead O'Connor--the tune is borrowed from "Foggy Foggy Dew" (yes, there is a difference of exactly one "foggy") and the lyrics were written by some fellow named Charles O'Neil, at least according to the stuff laying around in the music room.

I don't know from Charles O'Neill, but he wrote wonderfully well about what happened in Dublin during that Easter week, and in particular what the conflict sounded like. He says:

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o'er the Liffey's swell rang out through the foggy dew.

I like that--the muffled secrecy of the advance, the treachery and secrecy, followed by the tongue of the bell, the call to decency, faith, and prayer. Later on he says:

Oh the night fell black, and the rifles' crack made perfidious Albion reel
In the leaden rain, seven tongues of flame did shine o'er the lines of steel
By each shining blade a prayer was said, that to Ireland her sons be true
But when morning broke, still the war flag shook out its folds in the foggy dew

Sinead left this stanza out of her version, so I didn't know it even existed until today, but reading the lyrics confirmed that this lament is all about what was heard as much as what happened. Think I'm making this up? How about:

Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the spring time of the year.

There's that bell again, but not the Angelus this time.

So "Foggy Dew" is today's earworm, that song that will not leave you alone, and it's time to just accept that it's going to play in the background for the rest of the afternoon, perhaps into the evening.

Here's an odd, contradictory detail: I know that the Angelus is the thrice-daily prayer that faithful Catholics say to remember the incarnation, and I'll add quickly that, for a Quaker, I seem to know more than I should about Catholicism, but we'll leave that problem for some other day. And here's the contradiction--I have another idea that the Anglus isn't actually part of the prayer cycle during Holy Week. (Where do we learn these things? From novels? Probably The Nine Tailors, but sheesh.)

The song ends with a rewind, with the narrator going home once the carnage is over--

Back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

Happy Easter.

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