Posted by: jgurner | May 18, 2010

She Is Far From the Land

She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps,
And lovers are round her, sighing;
But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps,
For her heart in his grave is lying.

She sings the wild song of her dear native plains,
Every note which he loved awaking; —
Ah! little they think, who delight in her strains,
How the heart of the Minstrel is breaking.

He had lived for his love, for his country he died,
They were all that to life had entwined him;
Nor soon shall the tears of his country be dried,
Nor long will his Love stay behind him.

Oh! make her a grave where the sunbeams rest,
When they promise a glorious morrow;
They’ll shine o’er her sleep, like a smile from the West,
From her own loved island of sorrow.

– Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852)

About 20 years or so ago I took a class at Ole Miss called English Romantic Writers (Romantic era, not genre). While I didn’t do that great in the class grade wise (too early, I missed about as often as I was there) the subject matter had a profound effect on me. We went in depth into the lives and works of Blake, Shelly, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge and a host of other lesser known, at least to me, writers and poets. The class focused on the poetry of these writers, but encompassed  some of the important prose of the time, such as Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein.”

Though the age of Romanticism in English writing was short, about 30 years, it was the first time in my literary studies that I’d found an “age” I felt that I would enjoy being a part of. From what I’ve learned about the lives of the writers I feel that many of them would be kindred spirits. And, of course, a weekend at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva, maybe with Percy Shelly and a few others would probably be a lot of fun( and not too dissimilar to some parties I went to in college.)

But while Blake and Wordsworth and some of the others are names known before I took the class and remembered well after I took the class, Thomas Moore is one that, sadly, didn’t quite stick around like the others, even though I now realize what an impact Moore has had on me over the years.

Never heard of Thomas Moore? I’m not surprised.

But even though you don’t instantly recognized the name, I bet you a nickel you recognize his work. He is most famous for penning the lyrics to the song “The Minstrel Boy.”

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;

“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he lov’d ne’er spoke again
For he tore its chords asunder;

And said “No chains shall sully thee,

Thou soul of love and brav’ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!”

As it just so happens, a few years back I did a version of the song using vocals provided by Rebsie Fairholm. It’s posted here over at MacJams if you want to take a listen.

As it so happens, The Minstrel Boy is not the only work you might remember. There’s this classic. (I couldn’t find the actual Bugs Bunny clip.)

As a song, The Minstrel Boy has always been one of my favorites and it, along with tunes such as “Irish Tune from County Derry” (Danny Boy) and other played in band in high school and college, is largely responsible for my love of Celtic music. There’s something hauntingly familiar about the melodies and the stories the songs tell. Almost as if they gently stir some racial memory of my ancestors buried somewhere deep inside my being.

Moore’s poem “She Is Far From the Land” falls into that same category, though, sadly, it was something I’d completely forgotten about in the past couple of decades. Last week, just on a whim, I grabbed my old English Romantic Writers textbook as I was heading out the door to head to work, figuring when I had some down time I’d go back through it and do some reacquainting with the material.

That afternoon I reread “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and portions of the unfinished “Christabel” and a few short verses here and there. Then, quite by accident, I turned to a section near the end of the book focusing on Moore. I glanced at a few of his works, while, somewhere in the back of my mind, gears started turning and I started remembering just a little but from those classes decades earlier. Then, I flipped a page or two and there was “She Is Far From the Land,” and as I read the first line or two, I remembered the poem and how much I loved it when I first read it all those years ago.

As fate would have it, I was in the mood to make some new music and as I reread the poem again for the first time in ages, I realized it would work great as a piece of music. So, this past weekend I set about doing just that. The tune is posted here at MacJams if you’d like to take a listen.

Not only was I happy to rediscover this poem, but it was fun creating what I felt to be an appropriate musical setting for it. I’ve been in kind of a musical drought for the past several months, with only one completely new tune posted since November of last year, so it was also nice to be able, in less than two days, to lay down the music and vocals and be able to let it loose out in the world


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