Monday, September 1, 2008

Oft the Loner

Today was a real codebreaker. I've been working on a new recording with Jason, Joee, Bob, and James. It started out being a review of some songs from The Secret Commonwealth, but as the set evolved and a real-style Secret Commonwealth poetic cluster started forming, I realized some new songs could be composed to help the meaning take shape. I was very pleased to get four, including one that I'd been working on since 2000, but the fifth came as a total surprise. I didn't think it would come together this soon, after less than a year of work.

The song is called "Oft the Loner" and it is my way of singing a poem called "The Wanderer" - written in Old English around the same time as Beowulf. As soon as I read it I knew I could sing it, but none of the translations I could find were singable, and that meant figuring out what the poem was about, as they said in Greater Tuna of the plan to clean up the dictionaries down at Tuna High School with Reverand Spike and the Smut Snatchers Dictionary Hit List, by "considering each word on a word by word basis."

I went through a phase of translating poems from Middle English on a trip I made to The Outer Banks years ago. When you go into a beach bar and sit in a booth with a notebook and a book of Middle English Poems and a translating project you rightly feel you should be surreptitious about, then you know that you have no social life to speak of. I suppose that turning to Old English now is the icing on the cake. But there are so many fabulous words in The Wanderer!

Like "wraeclastas" (= paths of exile), and lines like "swa cwaed eardstapa" (=so said (the) earthstepper ((aka the wanderer))
Just the first line, "Oft him anhaga", hooked me - I chose the word "loner" for anhaga, but there's a mystical tone to the set of possible translations for the word - the anhaga is a solitary thinker whose inner being has a special quality, and who, in this case, is anxious or full of cares, and who wanders over the sea, having lost everything in the past. - "Wandering is an ambiguous mode of solitude. Voluntary wandering has been identified as the provence of wizards and shamans, poets and romantics." (this from a website about hermits) and then this;
"But wandering is also involuntary, and that is the ambiguity of the solitude it entails."

Here are the lyrics I wound up with, just a hint of the original, much longer poem:

Oft the Loner:

Oft the loner endures and waits
for some good luck to come his way;
burdened with cares, tossed by the waves,
wandering the path of the exile.

I talk to myself as I walk the earth,
recalling again how I lost all my friends -
in the dark before dawn, I lament what is gone -
there's no one who moves I could tell it to.

No doubt, it's my weird way
that leads me so far from all that is safe -
out to the edge of this frost-bitten strand,
where the seabird takes flight on the wind of ice.

Change rules the world, and fate must oblige -
nothing stays long that is under the sky -
fortunes fall, friends come and go;
only I linger here, on this desolate shore.


(I made up a really pretty tune to it.)

Composing this song was like a sort of homeopathic medicine - once loved for its special quality, the chilled soul of the loner shares an unexpected warmth. Today was kindof muggy, and since I had neither beer nor frozen brownie to help me survive, I had to turn to music.

The songs for this new recording have the voices of a series of solitary beings; the loner, the cowboy, the philosopher, the romantic, the hunter, the poet, the dreamer, the warrior, and the beach bum. Ambiguous huh? - that I'm so excited about sharing them!


Cathy said...

The song is beautiful and haunting. I can't wait to hear it!

Dan Dutton said...

Thanks! I need to put a link on here to the Old English manuscript & translation texts. I corresponded a bit with a guy who did a great site for this, with a complete glossary & a pic of the manuscript.

The song is really a high point for me in the simple realm of "songs that work great with just a guitar and a voice" ie campfire songs, & those are the core of my writing - so I'm psyched to get a new one!

Riverman was the song from The Faun which translated that way & this one will work just as well I think. Cebah really likes it - it surprised me that her comment after listening closely to it was not about the transience of life & mortality - she said, "I think a lot of young people will see themselves in that, when they've lost a girlfriend or a boyfriend."

Jason & I are passing rough demo mp3s back & forth - when I do one of Oft, I'll send it to you so you can eavesdrop on the process.

Kim said...

What Cebah says is true. I think surely most of us can relate to this. Though I am rarely alone, my mind wanders endlessly in solitude. To borrow a phrase William coined, to me, life sometimes feels like a "crowded solitude."

These lyrics are beautiful as is the painting. For me they both have a similar feeling. . . a soft fading and sharp intensification all at once. I can't wait to hear the song and see the painting in person.

Dan Dutton said...

You're overdue for a visit! (& I'll send the mp3 to William so you guys can hear it - in its ROUGH newly born shape.)

Pig and Peaches said...


Dan Dutton said...

There's a quality in the melody of Oft the Loner that makes me think of K.D. Lang - or maybe the way to put it is that I think the tune would suit her well. I admire her voice - this is the first song I've made that I can imagine her singing.

Pig and Peaches said...

kd lang has a very powerful voice. I would love to hear her Roy Orbison voice of longing wrapping around your song~ Alright, who is going to send it to her????

Dan Dutton said...

Once Jason & I have a decent demo of it, we'll see if anyone knows anyone who knows K.D.