I’ve now written eight songs for the Eight Great Days of the year, each based on the conditions or circumstances of the town I live in, in western Massachusetts. Litha is one of the old names for the Summer Solstice, which is in nine days. Four others in this series are published: Goshen Yule, Goshen Oimelc, Goshen Ostara, Goshen Maying — and I’ll record and publish the others as we go around the wheel this year.
This one, Goshen Litha, was written first, in fact, and a few days after I first wrote the lyrics, I performed it at a party in the back yard of some friends of mine, newly moved to town, for their housewarming and summer party. That was last year.
The original tune is called “George Collins” and it has some of the grimmest lyrics of all of the song-tunes I chose from 17th and 18th century ballads: the first verse is
George Collins rode home last Friday night,
and there he took sick and died;
and when Mrs. Collins heard George was dead,
she threw her head back and she cried.
I thought the tune, the original lyrics, and Summer Solstice all went together pretty well — the Sun will rise at 5:14 am set a bit after 8:30 pm on Solstice: that’s 15 hours 15 minutes of daylight. But it’s a bit hard to remember that this is the Sun’s maximum summer exposure — and that from this point onwards there’s a falling-off. Austin Coppock called the decan before Summer Solstice The Executioner’s Sword, and there’s some of that warning in the season, isn’t there? The greatest powers can and still must face death, and one day even our Sun must face its ending. Still, the lyrics that I wrote have this quality of celebration for the season, despite the grim original lyrics… and I like knowing that there’s this historic undertow even under such celebratory words.
by Andrew B. Watt — traditional tune “George Collins”
1. The Sun — he is shining on the brow, the brow of the hill in the east, Now is the summer come in at last, and the gardens bring forth a feast! 2. He rises quite early to make the day, and crowds out the nighttime hours, All life on earth needs his heat and light and depends on his strength and his powers. 3. Hear all the buzzing and watch the bees, alighting on every bloom; storing the sweetness of summer’s birth in each little hexagon room 4. Grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas too hum in a droning choir Goldfinch and swallow and falcon fly, on the heat of his summertime fire. 5. The Sun he is shining on the height, the height of the sky in the north! and everyone knows he is strongest now, when the heat of his labor comes forth. 6. Up in the mountains, down to the sea, and all of the meadows between, He paints all the berries and gilds the corn, and ripens the acorn and bean. 7. Asparagus, lettuce, and early peas, strawberries, dill and chives; Tomatoes and carrots and celery, and greenness everywhere thrives. 8. The Sun he is shining on the slope, the slope of the hill in the west, and though he will never shine so bright, by his labor is our work blessed! 9. Open the bottles and pass the bowls, there’s plenty to drink and eat, spread out the butter on chunks of bread, and move to the dance in your feet. 10. Light all the lanterns and sing the songs, and revel from door to door, Now is the summer come in at last, the sweetness that mortals adore.