Today I cranked the volume on a song called The Wind That Shakes The Barley. This version was sung by Loreena McKennitt. I wanted my son to hear the lyrics to this powerful ballad. Here’s a sample from the third verse:
While sad I kissed away her tears
My fond arms ’round her flinging
The foeman’s shot burst on our ears
From out the wildwood ringing
A bullet pierced my true love’s side
In life’s young spring so early
And on my breast in blood she died
While soft winds shook the barley.
The song made me think about history and how it is passed down, and how it has strength in its impact. If we read about this part of Ireland’s history in a text-book for example, we might skim, maybe get bored, worry about memorizing the important points for the upcoming test. But when that same piece of history is told in song or story, it becomes, once again, alive. We usually don’t feel tears on our cheeks reading a text-book.
When we can take a piece of history and bring it alive through telling of the lives of those who lived it, we not only remember those people, we honor what they lived through. I’m not talking just about this song’s time period, but about all history, from the ages past through to how our parents met. Or the birth story of our child.
I’m also not talking about that sad outcome of so many songs based on culture, where they have been sang so often they have become a cliché. Danny Boy comes immediately to mind, to continue the Irish theme.
The power of history is in the stories, songs, and photographs that come directly out of the time period. I could write a story about wagon trains and it might ring true, but it wouldn’t have the power of the entries in Women’s Diaries of the Westward Movement. The power of the words is in the source, a story coming from someone who lived through the event. Or from those who remember.
Although I have to point out that sometimes the power is in the storyteller. The song above was written in 1800′s about an event in 1798. But still, I’m sure you get my point.
So think about the power of storytelling, oral and written, the human, intensely personal aspect that gives words life. In a way this is what all writers strive to bring to their work; words that ring true, that pull up deep emotional responses, and remind us of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
It makes me feel like I have a long, long way to go to reach that place.
And it makes me feel very humble.
No photos of barley, but here’s a fuzzy one of my sister’s house in the wheat.