The Swallowtail Jig

Men-Black-Handmade-Steampunk-Tailcoat-Jacket-Black-Gothic

It is presumed that The Swallowtail Jig was written in the middle of the Nineteenth Century and came to America with the Irish migrant caravan of that era. It is also known as The Dancingmaster and both names come from the men’s coat that forks in the back like the tail of the swallow.

 

Here is my take on the song with video of the bird showing off his signature tail and a couple of fine jig dancers to give an idea of the steps that fit this type of song. I had to slow down the dancers as they were jigging to a faster tune. The BBC slowed down the birds on their own.

 

James Joyce and Poetry

Joyce called literature “the highest and most spiritual art.” For me, music has always held that spot but if anyone can make a case for words over music, it is James Joyce.

In this excerpt from his debut novel the protagonist is agonizing over the confusing and painful experience of seeing the woman he loves with another:

His anger against her found vent in coarse railing at her paramour, whose name and voice and features offended his baffled pride: a priested peasant, with a brother a policeman in Dublin and a brother a potboy in Moycullen. To him she would unveil her soul’s shy nakedness, to one who was but schooled in the discharging of a formal rite rather than to him, a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.
What can a poor boy do, in the days before there was such a thing as playing in a rock’n’roll band? For those who are not street fighting men the obvious answer is poetry.

If he sent her the verses? They would be read out at breakfast amid the tapping of egg-shells. Folly indeed! Her brothers would laugh and try to wrest the page from each other with their strong hard fingers. The suave priest, her uncle, seated in his arm-chair, would hold the page at arm’s length, read it smiling and approve of the literary form.

        No, no; that was folly. Even if he sent her the verses she would not show them to others. No, no; she could not.
And here is the poem:

Are you not weary of ardent ways,

Lure of the fallen seraphim?
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Your eyes have set man’s heart ablaze
And you have had your will of him.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

Above the flame the smoke of praise
Goes up from ocean rim to rim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.

And still you hold our longing gaze
With languorous look and lavish limb!
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Tell no more of enchanted days.

James Joyce and the wild heart of life

There are things we don’t know and things we will never know. But as long as we live, we keep trying to figure them out. Great writers are one of the sources we turn to for answers or, failing that, insight. Here is James Joyce giving his insight into the fall, and the temptation preceding the fall.

The snares of the world were its ways of sin. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently, in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be at some instant to come, falling, falling, but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall.
The fall may or may not be inevitable. None are immune to temptation. Some overcome it, or believe they do, and some find the solution in the prescription of Joyce’s fellow Irishman Oscar Wilde:
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
The fall of James Joyce was softened by the muse that came to him in gentle words. 
  
He drew forth a phrase from his treasure and spoke it softly to himself:

         A day of dappled seaborne clouds.

The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the grey-fringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language many-coloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?

Behind the veil of those words was the full experience of life: love and lust and something between and beyond those feelings, something living and dying in the sights and sounds of a girl on the edge of the water at the wild heart of life. 
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

        A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, was bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish; and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

        She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

        Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

Why The Irish Are The World’s Greatest Lovers


Ireland has been inhabited for the last twelve and a half millennia. There are more than six million people living on the emerald isle today, down from a peak of eight million in 1840, before the famine. By 1850, the Irish were a quarter of the population of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Buffalo. There are 40 million Irish people in the United States and they will all be marching up Fifth Avenue today, at least in spirit.
The Irish are known for being drunken and pugnacious but also for being poets, musicians, and dreamers. What is not as well known is that the Irish are the world’s greatest lovers. The French, Spanish, and Italian are renowned for being physical lovers. And we all know what happens when you go black. But the Irish are known for being spiritual lovers. They are good people to fall in love with, or to have fall in love with you. When an Irishman makes love to you he does it with his soul. The bodies involved are just pleasurable conduits to turn on and off while the souls dance the eternal ballet. In time bodies age, stiffen, and decay, but the love of an Irishman stays fresh.
Here’s a taste of some Irish love in the form of the traditional song “The Banks of the Lee” performed by Sarah McQuaid.
 

When two lovers meet down beside the green bower
When two lovers meet down beneath the green tree
When Mary, fond Mary, did say unto her lover
“You have stolen my poor heart from the Banks of the Lee”
For I loved her very dearly, so true and sincerely
There was no one in this wide world I love more than she
Every bush, every bower, every tree and every flower
Reminds me of my Mary, on the banks of the Lee.
“Don’t stay out late tonight on the moorlands, my Mary
Don’t stay out late tonight on the moorlands from me”
How little was our notion when we sailed upon the ocean
That we were forever parted from the Banks of the Lee
I will pluck my love some roses, some blooming Irish roses
I will pluck my love some roses, the finest that ever grew
And I will leave them on the grave of my own true lovely Mary
In the cold and silent churchyard where she sleeps ‘neath the dew

Down In The Salley Gardens


 
A friend recently turned me on to a poem by William Butler Yeats called Down By The Salley Gardens. It was first published in 1899 in a collection called The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. According to Wikipedia, “Oisin introduces what was to become one of his most important themes: the appeal of the life of contemplation over the appeal of the life of action.” 
This poem shows the downside of contemplation and inaction. Yeats said it is “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself.”
  
It is fitting that the poem from the song was returned to the world of music from whence it came. In 1909, Herbert Hughes matched the lyrics to the traditional melody “The Maids of Mourne Shore.” Here is a wonderful recording of the tune by Maura O’Connell and Karen Matheson.
Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

The Kesh Jig

Here’s another Irish jig I picked up from Bucky Reed’s excellent site.It’s also known as The Castle, Kerrigan’s, The Kesh Mountain, The Kincora, The Mountaineers’ March, among others. Michael Coleman recorded the melody on 78 RPM as “Kerrigan’s Jig.” The first printed version appears to be in George Petrie’s 1850’s collection under the title “Tear the Callies.”

The animation in this video is the work of the incredibly talented Ryan Woodward.

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