Sing It to Me

Filed under:Music — posted by Anwyn on March 31, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

I like poetry, but I don’t take the initiative often enough to sit down and read some, cold, so to speak. It’s not good reading-during-dinner material. But many times I’ve come to love and internalize poetry through singing it–either something I sang in one of the choirs I’ve been a member of or, in this case, CDs I really like. Choral music introduced me to the work of Christina Rosetti, for example, and this Nickel Creek rendering of “Sweet Afton” by Robert Burns is everything you could want in a lullaby. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and give it a listen–the video’s embedding code was “disabled by request,” alas, so I have to link it. Listen to words like “yon” and “rills” and “stem” roll out as though they’re perfectly understandable modern English alongside venerable rocks of the language like “lofty.” I particularly like the phrase “far marked.” I’ve sung this to my son for a long time now, and I haven’t decided if Burns’s “Mary” is really “asleep by thy murmuring stream” or dead, her death made palatable by poetic license.

That’s not true; I have decided. She’s only asleep. And if you know of Burns commentary that says otherwise, don’t tell me.


  1. Lovely! My poor child grew up listening to lullabies with the wrong words. When I couldn’t remember them, I’d make them up. My goal was to get her to sleep or relax for sleep, not teach her poetry. I see now the error of my ways.

    I also sang lots of Christmas carols because they were the only songs I knew the words to. I can’t sing very well so it was nice to have an appreciative audience.

    Enjoy these days!

    Comment by Anne — April 1, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  2. Never think that there are “proper” or “correct” words to any song that was concieved prior to recording devices. Lullabies are a large part of oral tradition, so they change and evolve with every telling or singing. In a world where Disney has locked fairy tales into place, it is wonderful to be part of the “I’ve-forgotten-the-words-so-I’ll-make-something-up” tradition.

    Comment by Garter Knight — April 1, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace