Archive for October, 2015

Aboutness (because we get to choose)

I turned out the light and returned to Emilia’s bedside, pulled the blanket up around her chin and asked her what song she wanted. She thought for a moment but couldn’t decide.

“How about ‘The Rose You Wore for Me’?” I suggested. She said yes, so I sang this song:

As I open my eyes I can see you still
With the sunlight so gay glinting on the quay
All buttons and bows and the bloom of the rose
You wore for me

Oh I swore I’d return as a prince one day
With a ship full of gold for the world to see
Oh I promised you then though I couldn’t say when
That day would be

Now long are the days since we lay in the fields so green
And long are the nights to consider what might have been
And the song of the geese in the wind will call your name

Ah the mountains just laughed when I turned for home
Never mountains so high or a man so small
Is it hours to the shore or ten thousand miles more
Beyond recall?

Such a fool to believe all the tales they told
Twice the fool just to kiss you and sail away
For they lied when they told of the rivers of gold
In America

Now long are the days since we lay in the fields so green
And long are the nights to consider what might have been
And the song of the geese in the wind will call your name

If a word or a wish could transport me now
I would fly to your arms like a moth to flame
But I’m chained and I’m bound to the cold foreign ground
With none to blame

But does my love warm your heart through the cold cold night
Does it twine round your heart as the rose is grown
Or has loved burned away leaving ashes as grey
And cold as stone

Now long are the days since we lay in the fields so green
And long are the nights to consider what might have been
And the song of the geese in the wind will call your name”*

I bent and kissed her forehead.

“Daddy?”

“Yes.”

“What is that song about?”

I underwent a moment of alarm. Millie had had an emotionally trying day and several times needed to be held a long time and rocked — she feels things so deeply and expresses sadness thoroughly and outwardly — and the last thing I wanted to do was to disturb her again just before she slept. Maybe that song choice had been ill-advised, I thought, though Mara had always loved it for a lullaby. Worrying about all this caused me at first to miss the fact that Millie understood that the words of a song might not be all there is to say about the story of the song, that a song has ‘aboutness’ — which is not its meaning but its reference.

“It’s about a guy in Ireland who is very poor,” I said, “so poor that he doesn’t feel he can marry the girl he loves, so he sets out for America where he’s heard the rivers run with gold. He plans to get so much gold that he can come back and marry her, but when he gets to America he finds out that the rivers aren’t full of gold, that it was just…it was something people said but it wasn’t true. So he didn’t get a lot of gold, in fact he doesn’t even have enough money to get back to Ireland. That’s why he says he’s chained and he’s bound…he doesn’t really have chains on him, but he’s stuck in America. And he remembers back to the day he left home, how the girl he loved came to the dock to see him off, and she was wearing a rose. And that rose was like her love for him, and like his love for her. And he’s asking if…the song is a question he’s singing all the way back to her in Ireland, asking whether the rose is still alive, whether she still loves him even though they’re far away from each other.”

I stopped for just a beat. It all seemed horribly sad and suddenly hopeless. Why did I sing such a morose ballad to a kid who really just needed “Eensy Weensy Spider”?

But kids are little fountains, little aquifers of hope, and it occurred to me then that it would not take much to frack into that reservoir. I leaned close and whispered. “And what do you think the answer is? Do you think she still loves him?”

Before tonight I never thought about the answer to that question. The song wasn’t really a question in my mind, just the last outcry of disillusionment. But even in the dark with my steadily worsening vision I could see a broad smile reach across Millie’s face like a tide over shallows. And she nodded her consent.

“I think so, too,” I said, and it wasn’t a lie then, even if it might have been a minute before. “That’s what the song is about. About loving someone for a really long time. No matter what happens.” 

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*The song written by Danny Carnahan was sung by Robin Petrie on their 1989 album No Regrets.


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