Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For a Song: The Song of Wandering Aengus

Karan Casey: The Song of Wandering Aengus


Belatedly, I wish a happy St Patrick’s Day to all. And I offer an Irish tune for your enjoyment.

The list of things one thinks about in contemplating Ireland is not the most complementary. There are “The Troubles”, a shortage of potatoes, and too much drinking, just for starters. But the Irish have some of the best music on the planet, a rich folkdance tradition, and great storytellers. And they have a unique relationship with tales of magic.

On its face, The Song of Wandering Aengus is simply a tale of love found and lost. But, for those who know what to look for, there is more. The narrator casts a hazelnut into a running stream, and then retrieves a trout from the water. Then he returns home, and a beautiful woman mysteriously appears to him. The casting of the hazelnut into running water is an old ritual for summoning supernatural beings. Later references to the silver apples of the moon and golden apples of the sun confirm that the woman is a visitor from the Otherworld. In countless tales, such beings can visit in our world, and even love and be loved, but they must always return home in the end.

Karan Casey does a beautiful job of putting forward the emotion of this tale. Casey gained a reputation when she was still with Solas as one the best traditional singers in Ireland, and nothing she has done as a solo artist contradicts that.