I was reading my copy of “A Quick Guide to Customs & Etiquette…Culture Smart! Britain” (a congratulatory/farewell gift from my brother) when I came across Londonderry- which I didn’t even know was in Northern Ireland (no kidding)- which in turn reminded me of Londonderry Air . I used to play the tune on piano when I was about 8 or 9, I think, but now I realise that that not only did I not know that it’s actually an Irish folk tune AND the anthem of Northern Ireland, I don’t even remember the melody!

So I got to Wiki-ing it and Youtube-ing it and this is what I found and I am moved. It’s stuck in my head now and won’t go away.

First one’s a piano trio and the second’s by Reading University’s Flute Choir (!!) and third’s by a symphonic band. Absolutely charming.

Apparently folk tunes usually have various versions of lyrics set to them and this is my favourite- An Irish Love Song by Katherine Tynan Hinkson (Yes I credit all this to Wiki! Now anyone can be smartypants teehee).

“It wasn’t called the Londonderry Air in print until 1894 when this was the name given it as the tune accompanying Irish Love Song, written by Katherine Hinkson, in a book edited by Alfred Perceval Graves called Irish Song Book.”

Would God I were the tender apple blossom
That floats and falls from off the twisted bough
To lie and faint within your silken bosom
Within your silken bosom as that does now.
Or would I were a little burnish’d apple
For you to pluck me, gliding by so cold
While sun and shade you robe of lawn will dapple
Your robe of lawn, and you hair’s spun gold.
Yea, would to God I were among the roses
That lean to kiss you as you float between
While on the lowest branch a bud uncloses
A bud uncloses, to touch you, queen.
Nay, since you will not love, would I were growing
A happy daisy, in the garden path
That so your silver foot might press me going
Might press me going even unto death.

And, like how I am fascinated with any beautiful verses about death, O Danny Boy is a close second:

Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying.
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye (or yah) back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
‘Tis I’ll be there in sunshine or in shadow.
Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy, I love you so.
But if ye come, and all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be.
Ye’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my dreams will warmer, sweeter be,
And you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me,
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

And listen ye to O Danny Boy, set to majestic Irish scenery, sung by Michael Londra (who? hehe):

And an interesting bit of history:

A few weeks previously Ellen Terry [an English stage actress-from COVENTRY!] died and, it seems, the Londonderry Air was played at her funeral. Terry had written a verse inside a book, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, followed by a note indicating – “I should wish my children, relatives and friends to observe this when I die.” The verse reads

No funeral gloom, my dears, when I am gone,
Corpse-gazing, tears, black raiment, graveyard grimness.
Think of me withdrawn into the dimness,
Yours still, you mine.
Remember all the best of our past moments and forget the rest.
And so to where I wait, come gently on.

This verse was pinned to the gate of Terry’s house as she lay waiting to be cremated. Her wishes were carried out; no blinds were drawn and no one wore black.

And then this got me thinking about a verse from Isaiah I read about sometime back in the Correspondent’s Diary section of the Economist:

Man that is born of a woman
Hath but a short time to live,
And is full of misery.
He cometh up, and is cut down like a flow’r;
He fleeth as it were a shadow,
And ne’er continueth in one stay.

The whole series of short but thought-provoking writings about death and the afterlife here – Click.

Things like these make me want to believe in the afterlife, really- but is there one or not? How do we know it’s not merely beautiful manifestations of human desire to believe that there is more to life that is awaiting us than suffering and sorrow and physical pain? It’s so easy to be trapped by your own disillusionment and resignation and then eventually come to the point where you justify your entire life by saying This simply cannot be it and then I refuse to believe that this is it.

And then I think sometimes when people can no longer keep in their frustrations it all overflows and transforms into expressions of unspeakable beauty…and that’s how you have awesome paintings and architecture.

P.S: I can’t wait to visit more cathedrals in the UK! (: