I am starting this thread in the hope that people will post poems or lyrics that they cherish for the way the words illustrate or encapsulate a feeling or notion with a precision that has made them memorable, haunting or just plain enjoyable. And hopefully comment why they treasure these particular words.
I am going to start off with the lyrics to a song which have resonated with me for nearly 50 years now. Long before I’d heard the word autism.
The Drifter’s Escape
“Oh, help me in my weakness”
I heard the drifter say
As they carried him from the courtroom
And were taking him away
“My trip hasn’t been a pleasant one
And my time it isn’t long
And I still do not know
What it was that I’ve done wrong”
Well, the judge, he cast his robe aside
A tear came to his eye
“You fail to understand,” he said
“Why must you even try?”
Outside, the crowd was stirring
You could hear it from the door
Inside, the judge was stepping down
While the jury cried for more
“Oh, stop that cursed jury”
Cried the attendant and the nurse
“The trial was bad enough
But this is ten times worse”
Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while ev’rybody knelt to pray
The drifter did escape
Dylan often uses the outsider to comment on society, like the previous generation of the Beat poets and writers.
In verse one the Drifter is in the court room expressing his fragility and how he is unaware of the nature of his transgression.
In verse two, the judge - official duties performed - removes the apparel of office and sympathises, he’s seen outsiders before. There is a restless crowd outside and the jury are crying for more - the disapproving, accusatory baying of those unable to accept and include lives lived outside the mainstream.
In verse three, the nurse and the attendant are appalled by the mob behaviour. Then divine intervention - or an ordinary weather incident ,take your pick - and the Drifter, unencumbered by popular superstition or orthodox religion, makes his escape. I’ve always felt a certain connection with the Drifter. In my young teenage years I banged on so much about Bob Dylan, that I ended up with the nickname Bob.
The lyrics of many songs that sound ok don't stand up when written down. And conversely and contrariwise there are songs which have very good lyrics but when set to music also don't stand up.
I could include the lyrics of any number of contemporary songwriters who write in the folk idiom. People such as Brian Bedford (of the acapella trio Artisan), Bill Caddick, *** Gaugan, Ewan MacColl, Tom Paxton, Ralph McTell ... all write outstanding lyrics at times. I will perhaps put some others on later, but with the world in a constant state of near war at the moment, I will put the lyrics to 'Crow on the Cradle'. This was written by the pacifist Sydney Carter, who is perhaps best known for 'Lord of the Dance' and a few other modern hymns such as 'When I needed a neighbour were you there'. Good versions of this song are by Jackson Brown and also 'Show of Hands'. The song is very loosely based on a folk song lullaby 'Bonny at Morn'.
Excellent choice, Trainspotter,
I used to have the triple album ‘No Nukes’ that featured Graham Nash and Jackson Brown singing this. I wish I could remember where it is. Gil Scot Heron performed ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ on the album, so in a roundabout way there is a connection.
In the woodlands I work in (hazel coppice) there is quite often a Crab Apple tree, I used to wonder why. Then I remembered the lines in the famous folk song ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’
‘They hired men with the crab tree sticks
to cut him skin from bone’
Sticks from the Crab Apple were used to thresh the barley or wheat.
A quickie from Rumi
Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
"Find the cost of freedom
buried in the ground.
Mother Earth will comfort you
lay your body down."