Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love and Childhood Memories (Part II)

 An album tells a story just as well as any Bard of old. Here is an excerpt from an Album I’ve had since I was a great deal younger. Purchased direct from its creature while I was a student of hers at the Ohio Scottish Arts School:

Lament for Ronal MadDonald of Moroar/
South in Autumn
…as featured on Ann Gray’s 1998 Album ‘Shouting at Magpies.’

“Oh lad of the brown hair, your are eyes are autumn
Leaves fall like tears; I cannot cry
In bitter wind, then, my heart is lonely
Lonely hills and sky

The fields are untended, the cattle scattered
Magpies quarrel overhead
My thoughts are stones to throw at them

If you can, come to me again
Travel by little known ways
Through the high passes, before they fill with snow”

At home now they’ll be turning the fields,
The shadows lengthening, the winter coming
The rooks will call from trees without leaves,
And oh now the seasons are turning…

And if my feet had wings to fly, then tonight in your arms I’d lie
But I’m two hundred miles South in Autumn…

The battles lost, the battles won – are as a dream to me now
Amongst the heather
Of fine rain and mist, we are its children
And I slowly turn for home


I think I shall not see you again, last night a vision to me came
The women they were keening ‘round a hearth grown cold
And I had gone to my last battle


The lament was written for Ronald MacDonald of Morar, known in his time as Raghnall Mac Ailein Oig, a celebrated hero and composer. The tune it self, according to Barnaby Brown, falls with in the Free Lyrical form of the classic Ceol Mor tradition of Scotland. It is ‘unfettered by geometrical repeated patterns,’ other wise so common to other classic Pibrochs’. It’s a good tune but not one I’ve had the pleasure of learning.

Although, according to Highland legend as recorded by folklorist Calum MacLean in his 1959 book The Highlands, MacDonald may have composed another tune I learned as a young man:

‘There is one very lovely pibroch called, MacCrimmion’s Sweetheart… Tradition in the Arisaig district has it that the pibroch was composed… by Raghnall Mac Ailein Oig to a sea-shell that he picked up one day as he strode along the shore.’

According to Iain Macey, who taught me how to play the tune while I was attending his course on beginning piobroch, a different account of its creation could be given. His version, also recorded in MacLean’s book, told how one MacCrimmon wrote it for a favorite brown polled cow that fell into a bog…

Brown pulled cows aside, the tune holds too much emotional weight for me to play a note of it without the memories of my own love past filling my heart with remorse. It carries enough baggage for me to sink my own heart in any bog or swamp.

South in Autumn is a track that tells a tale of a man far from his love, unable to return to her side. At face value it would seem that the war that has separated him from his sweetheart would be difficult to relate to for you or I. But the emotions that come out are universal. The kind of emotions found in millions of love songs and thousands of lines of verse.

Something about being alone, far from the one you love. It strikes a cord deep inside anyone’s heart. Love; Lost or destroyed, in madness or death. That love ‘which paints the petal with myriad hues, glances in the warm sunbeam, arches the cloud with the bow of beauty, blazons the night with starry gems, and covers earth with loveliness.’ In the Highlands or Lowlands, the waters in the north or the mountains to our south. No difference is perceivable in what was and still exists in the hearts of all.


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