Song: Goshen Oimelc

At Yule, I published the first of eight songs for the wheel of the year here, named for the season and for the town in western Massachusetts where I live. We’re about two weeks out from the cross-quarter day that’s halfway between the winter solstice (around December 21) and the spring equinox (that’s around March 21). This day, in some calendars called Candlemas, and in others Imbolc or Oimelc or Calan Myri, and in others Groundhog Day, falls about February 1-2 each year.

It’s the season for wassailing the fruit trees, too: singing to the trees to wake them up, pouring them a glass of last year’s cider, and hanging toast from the branches to entice the tree spirits back into their trunks; and singing the winter out of the trees’ limbs. One of my good friends, now dead, alas, would go around with an apple wand or a maple branch, tapping on trees before tapping the trees for the sap.

To the tune of “Sir Lionel:”  http://www.contemplator.com/child/lionel.html

  • Frost by night and thaw by day,
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap
    rush of life from root to crown,
    dream of maples tall and grown
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
  • Stag in royal antlers crowned
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
    rich in crimson velvet seen
    champion of his battles keen,
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
  • Though the world is cold and gray
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
    life escapes from winter’s grasp,
    walks its ancient new-made path. 
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
  • Crocus pokes through melting ice,
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!
    seeds break open under snow;
    where’d the groundhog’s shadow go?
    sugar in the sap, sugar in the sap!

As with the other songs in this cycle of eight, I chose a historical tune, in this case “Sir Lionel”, using the database of historical songs at Contemplator.com. This is Child Ballad #18, from collections associated with Francis Child, who collected and transcribed songs from England in the middle 1800s (as I understand the process). The song was published earlier than that, though, possibly as early as 1719 — and Child used sources from the Percy Manuscript, a collection of poetry and ballad-lyrics written in the middle 1600s but with material going back to the 1100s. We really don’t know how old this song’s tune is.

On my way up the hill out of the Connecticut River Valley, to my home, it’s hard not to notice the elaborate set-ups in the woods for collecting and concentrating — some might say, distilling — maple sap into maple syrup, and then crystallizing it into maple cream and maple sugar. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s an industry, but it’s clearly an important part of the relationship of people who live here to the land. That informed the first verse of the song. The second involves the clashes of young stag deer in the forests… they don’t really begin right now, but deer shed their antlers around here while there’s still snow on the ground, though not always that much snow. The third and fourth verses point to the promises of late February not yet filled, but perhaps coming soon — and the ways in which the weather is endlessly new yet endlessly similar. Perhaps not so much any more… but then again, perhaps just so, anyway.

You are welcome to sing this at your (personal, non-recorded, semi-private) events around Groundhog Day, if the climate and local conditions warrant it or even if you feel like singing it. What’s that bit? Anyone who feels like singing a song of mine is a friend of mine.

And — assuming that the recording software works — here’s a recording of me singing it, poorly and not quite in sync with the music over on Contemplator.com

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