on songs

My mother used to sing this song to us:

On a wagon bound for market

There’s a calf with a mournful eye.

High above him there’s a swallow

Winging swiftly through the sky.

How the winds are laughing

They laugh with all their might

Laugh and laugh the whole day through

And half the summer’s night.

Dona dona dona…

“Stop complaining” said the farmer

“Who told you a calf to be;

Why don’t you have wings to fly with

Like the swallow so proud and free?”

How the winds….

Dona dona dona…

Calves are easily bound and slaughtered

Never knowing the reason why.

But whoever treasures freedom,

Like the swallow must learn to fly.


There’s something silly in the text of a song.  Words alone can’t quite get at it, and if they could, then what would be the point of putting them to music?  I’ve been listening to a lot of  music lately, though really it’s just that I’ve been noticing music more lately, always having been an avid listener.  I envy song, but I realized that I don’t listen to the words for content, but for how they hit and resonate in my chest.  I can’t tell you what most lyrics are, but I know what they mean.  Not literally, of course.  On the bus towards work today I turned on The Distillers and the light against the buildings of downtown Seattle seemed nearly violent, the glass of windows reflecting the contained energy.  Barely contained.  Bursting.  The small movements of other commuters felt pent in, carefully controlled, as though something Bigger and Greater lay beneath everyone’s skin, just beyond the rush of traffic, just over the mountain edges.  I want to do that with my voice, but I haven’t the courage to sing deeply.  I skim songs; I hum along and keep my voice halfway in my throat when I sing along.  

Some day I’d like to go out into the middle of fields, where I know no one is listening, and see if I can unleash.  Some day.

3 thoughts on “on songs

  1. That song was stuck in my head as I rode to work the other day. I feel like there are other verses, but I can’t remember them.

  2. Something silly in the text? As I recall, several years later, when I no longer sang songs every night and you were old enough to begin thinking about the meaning of words, you were rather distressed by the lyrics of this song. What seems to me to be a bit silly is the happy tune that accompanies the words. Maybe it was just the way I sang it.

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