Cheerful Voices: She moved through the fair

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kine”
And she stepped away from me and this she did say:
It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And then she turned homeward with one star awake
Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

The people were saying, no two e’er were wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said;
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

Last night she came to me, my dead love came in
So softly she came that her feet made no din;
As she laid her hand on me and this she did say
“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day.”

The melody to this is very old indeed. Some of the words are newer, written around 1909 by Padraic Colum to fit the already-existing final verse.

I’ve always liked sad songs; maybe that’s another reason “There was an old woman who had a little pig” doesn’t bother me. This one is downright haunting.

When I was busking regularly in Bath and London, I thought a bit about how I could be very obvious one moment, and then pack up my horn and disappear into the crowd. Moving into and out of anonymity felt strangely liberating, as if, given a means to support myself, I could always escape, start over somewhere else as a different musician, different person. I never tried it, but it was a comfort on harder days.

I don’t long for that escape now: I have the freedom to be who I am where I am, and my interdependence with others is less constricting than the shaky reliance on others I felt when I was younger. In this song, I always wonder whether the lady disappeared of her own volition, whether the last verse is a sort of mirage of wishful thinking on the part of the narrator and “my love” is somewhere else, selling her goods and her gear in some other market, making her own way in the world with people of her choosing.

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