Friday Poetry Blogging: The Unquiet Grave
Meanwhile, here is something else I love very much.
Used to be, people memorized a lot of poetry as part of their educations. We don't do that so much anymore, and maybe that's to the good in some ways--I'm not big on rote memorization, really. But it's also too bad that most of us don't have much poetry "on call" when we might want it to wrap around ourselves.
I don't have a lot of poetry off by heart. The first sixteen lines of the Canterbury Tales. Portions of the opening to Beowulf. Bits and pieces of Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium." At one time, I also had Byrhtwold's speech from The Battle of Maldon, Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," some Shakespeare (Portia's speech on mercy; Juliet's fantastic and rather macabre speech on cutting Romeo up into little stars; and later, when I got tired of memorizing what I thought were boring "girly" speeches and was confronted with an Old Guard professor I wanted to be a bit cheeky to, Henry V's speech before the battle of Agincourt).
But I do know a fair number of traditional ballad poems, because I've learned to sing some of them as songs. And they're remarkably easy to remember, after all: they're designed to be passed along orally and carried in the back of the mind until they're needed. If I tried, I might even be able to type out the rather excruciatingly long full version of "The Turkish Lady / Young Beichan" I learned some years ago, in which an appallingly caddish hero gets to marry a feisty and lovely gal he clearly doesn't deserve. But I will spare you.
Instead, I give you this one. It's not quite my favorite, but it ranks right up there. Some might accuse me of being morbid for loving this song so much, but I'm afraid those folks are missing its point entirely.
The Unquiet Grave
The wind doth blow today, my love,
With a few small drops of rain.
I never had but one true love,
And he in the cold grave lies slain.
I'll do as much for my true love
As any young maid may.
I'll set and mourn all on his grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.
The twelvemonth and a day bein' up,
The dead began to speak.
Says, "Who is this sets on my grave
And will not let me sleep?"
"It is I my love, sets on your grave
And will not let you sleep.
I crave one kiss from your clay-cold lips
And that is all I seek."
"You crave one kiss from my clay-cold lips,
But my breath smells earthly strong.
If you had one kiss from my cold-clay lips,
Your time would not be long.
Oh, down in yonder's garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The fairest flower that ever did bloom
Is withered to a stalk.
The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So must our hearts decay.
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away."