Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Basic Poetics - Ballads - ("The Bitter Withy")
AG: "The Bitter Withy" (on page one-hundred-and-seven) has one exquisite line in it. Well, there's one pretty Donovan-esque line (Donovan? the English [Irish -sic] ballad-maker of contemporary days?) - stanza six (it's about the little Saviour, out playing with his friends and being put down by his friends, and (he) announces himself to them, and then, "Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun,/And over He gane, He gane He/And after followed the three jolly jerdins/And drownded they were all three" - I don't know what the.. "Drownded" - that's funny, because people do say that - kids say that - "he drownded" - and they're rebuked for saying "drownded" - "spelt wrong" (but, actually, that's the old archaic spelling of "drownded") - "Mummy, he was drownded".
Student: What's a "withy" and a "jerdin"?
AG: Er.."jerdin"? - What have we got here? - "(a whole handful of) bitter withy"? - "Withy" is a willow, willow tree. The "jerdins"? - boys? - It just says so there.. You've got the.. If you look on the right-hand side of the page..
Student(): … Further off in stanza three...
AG: Yeah, "Oh, there he met three jolly jerdins" - and on the right-hand side - "boys? (probably aristocrats)" - I just like that line then - "Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun". It's a little bit like, you know, Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz - airy-fairy imagery, but it's kind of nice, actually - "Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun" - Then you have these kids drown on it! - It's a bitter withy!
I mean, it's a funny picture of Christ as a nasty kid, oddly enough. So Mary spanks him for these misdeeds. He went out to play with these kids. They didn't treat him right. So he took this God-like revenge on them. The mothers came to complain to Mary, saying, "Our sons are "drownded all".
Student: .. Mary mild!..
AG: Yes, Mary spanked him with a "bitter withy" - "She gave Him slashes three". And then, at the end, (which weirds everything out), then he says to his mother, "Oh, the withy! Oh the withy!/The bitter withy that causes me to smart, to smart/Oh, the withy, it shall be the very first tree/That perishes at the heart!" - So there is a thing in the Bible about the fig tree that didn't bear figs and Christ had cursed it and it withered forever also.
It's just a very sharp, mean ballad, that one.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in]