When I was a teenager, we went to an Irish festival run by the Ancient Order of Hiberians near Hamilton, NJ. This was serious business. The music was rich, the smell of wool and pipes abundant, and the love of the open air rang out. The gypsy spirit, the wanderin' wonder of the pilgrim laid heavy on the crowd. And curiously, every face looked like a relative to me. Here's where those snatches of songs and pieces of poetry first began to stick and settle into my spirit.
I picked up my first tinwhistle at that festival and have been "foolin'" with the melodies ever since; a jig or a reel, but mostly the slow, soulful airs are what I like to play. And a tune must start with a poem. My brother and I know a few. They were absorbed by osmosis, by the listening over and over again to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, in the wake of that great resurgence of Irish music and new folk music that struck in the 60's.
As I grow older, from time to time, I try and recite those old poems or songs in my head. God forbid I should ever slip and they fall right out altogether. This one has the weight of the world in it. The tragic beauty of a man, made in the image of the King, but through his own weakness subject to act the fool. But it's charged as all good poems are with the same sense of hope. Hope that man can rise up again, be lifted up to glory if only he can remember where he came from!
He stumbled home from Clifton Fair
with drunken song and cheeks aglow
yet there was something in his air
that told of kingship long ago
I cried and innly burned with grief
that one so high should fall so low.
But he plucked a flower and he sniffed its scent
and waved it toward the sunset sky
some old sweet rapture through him went
and kindled in his bloodshot eye
I sighed and innly cried for joy
that one so low should rise so high.
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