~ Songs From The Wood ~



Cup Of Wonder
  • This song is a fairly explicit call for the listener to at least reconsider what tradition has to offer. The song calls back "those who ancient lines did lay". A ley line, in Celtic lore, is a line in the ground along which the energy of the earth flows. These lines were to connect sacred sites such as Stonehenge. After more Celtic images (standing stones, the Green Man, et al) the listener is asked to: "Question all as to their ways, and learn the secrets that they hold." This line perhaps sums up the message of the entire album better than any other. Other pagan/pre-Christian references include the line "Pass the cup of crimson wonder", which refers to Druidic human sacrifice. Peg Aloi interprets the lines "Join in black December's sadness, Lie in August's welcome corn." as referring to the pagan holidays of Yule and Lughnasa.
    * "Songs from the wood : the music and lyrics of Ian Anderson", John Benninghouse; adaptation Jan Voorbij.
  • I was surprised by the interpretation of the "cup of crimson wonder" in Jethro Tull's imagery in Cup of Wonder. There are several reasons to believe the reference is to wine, not blood. For one, the song is an upbeat tune describing the revelries of Beltane. Beltane was a fire/fertility festival where the emphasis was on sexuality, not on sacrifice. Tradition included drinking, feasting and dancing. Second, the invocation of wine for visualizing "the green man" in the bipartite line: "Ask the green man where he comes from, ask the cup that fills with red." suggests that the cup is a source of ritualistic knowledge that imparts insights about life and visions of the supernatural.
    Finally, while there are some who claim the Druids engaged in bloodletting as a sacrificial rite, most historians recognize the Roman claim of ritual immolation of prisoners, but remain doubtful of blood as a significant component of Druidic ritual life.
    * Mark Davis
  • This has to be among the most brilliant of Anderson's many brilliant lines: "For the May Day is the great day, sung along the old straight track. And those who ancient lines did lay will heed the song that calls them back". (...)"Cup of Wonder" is about pagan and quasi-druidical rituals (or how we today imagine that they were, since nobody knows for sure.) "Beltane" is the name of an old pagan ceremony surviving as May Day (...). Here's why the couplet is so brilliant: First it contains a literary allusion: "The Old Straight Track" was a book published in 1925 by Alfred Watkins, an amateur archaeologist, about the lines of standing stones and other megalithic monuments in Britain and France. He believed that the alignments of the stones were evidence of, or channels for, some unknown power in the earth. Deliberately aligning buildings, furniture, etc. to correspond with these lines is a type of magic called geomancy(...). But even more amazing, the next line contains a TRIPLE pun. There are three ways of reading "those who ancient lines did lay": 1) "lay" means to put or set down; it refers to those who placed the stones in their alignments. 2) "ley line" is another term for the mystical lines of power that are said to be under the earth. This term was first used by Alfred Watkins. The origin of the word "ley" is vague, but may be from "lea" for a tract of open ground, or the Saxon word for a cleared glade. 3) "lines did lay" can also refer to to minstrels writing lays, a form of poetry (as in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," by Tennyson). The term "lines" then refers to the lines of words that make up the lay. And we know that Ian is fond of the idea of minstrels; it makes just as much sense that the minstrels will "heed the song" as it does the original builders of the alignments. The man is a stone (!) genius.
    * Ernest Adams (SCC vol. 9 nr. 4)
  • In the line "pass the word and pass the lady", lady is probably the sabbath-cake which many pagans referred to as "the Lady". Here is referred to witches sabbat, of which Beltane is one of eight. Cakes and ale (or wine) is the traditional sacrament. One would "pass the word" because coven meetings (where a group of witches would work magic together) were, after all, secret affairs.
    * Jessica Alexander

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Ring Out, Solstice Bells

  • This song is a dance to celebrate winter Solstice (mostly on the 22nd and sometimes on the 21st of December) and appeals to rejoice the lengthening of the days, c.q. the return of the light. In it dru´ds dance while the narrator calls for people to gather underneath mistletoe and give praise to the sun. For many European nations like the Celts, and the Germanic peoples this festival in ancient times was one of the major ones of the year, full of rites and ceremonies of which some survived the ages like the bonfire/fireworks. During its spread over Europe, Christianity claimed this festival by 'implanting' Christmas as a festival of light on the 25th of December. The back of the sleeve of the "Solstice Bells"-EP (released in 1976) has a brief anecdote describing how the Church co÷pted the pagan winter solstice celebrating, Yule, and replaced it with Christmas.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • I have a piece of news for you: I think that Ian made a blunder here! He talks about Druids, but evidence has been shown that the Celtic peoples, of whom the Druids were the priests, did not celebrate Solstices. The Celts had only four days of celebration in the year, namely Samain on the eve of November (our actual Halloween), which was their New Year's Day, Imbolc on the Eve of February (which has become French "chandeleur"), Beltane on the eve of May, and finally Lughnasad on the eve of August. Other Pagan peoples, mainly gothic tribes, celebrated the Winter's solstice as Yule, but the Celts never did. Perhaps Ian meant to use "druid" in the sense of "priest", but the Druids were only Celtic, and derive their name from the same root as the Latin verb for "see": etymologically, Dru-vides means "the far-seeing," that is those that could see that which normal human beings cannot (i.e. the gods or any supernatural manifestation.)
    Where Ian is right though is in qualifying the Sun of "sister" and not "father" (more rarely "brother") as we are accustomed to. In Celtic languages the Sun was feminine and the Moon masculine, because Celtic people considered the power of life to be feminine in nature, and that the sun's heat and light was the expression of the Mother Goddess's power to give life. The distinction between Mother Goddess and "sister Sun" does not contradict this, because for Celtic peoples the Goddess embodied all types of women, hence she was mother, sister and lover at the s ame time.
    (For more detailed information about Celtic civilisation, mythology and beliefs, I recommend the books written by Jean Markale. He is a French writer who has written many books on the Celts as well as on the Arthurian Legend, and you can find many of his works translated into English. Look for titles such as The Celts : Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture, Woman of the Celts, The Druids : Celtic Priests of Nature, or The Great Goddess : Reverence of the Divine Feminine from the Paleolithic to the Present.
    * Fred Sowa

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The Whistler

  • Like 'Velvet Green' this is a love song. The rural imagery continues. A man, presumably, offers to buy the object of his affection mares and apples. He talks of sunsets in 'mystical places', a line that bring the stone circles to mind. This image returns in 'Acres Wild' ("I'll make love to you (...) where the dance of ages is playing still") and in 'Dun Ringill' ("We'll wait in stone circles, till the force comes through (...) oh, and I'll take you quickly by Dun Ringill.").
    "Songs from the wood : the music and lyrics of Ian Anderson", John Benninghouse; adaptation Jan Voorbij.
  • This song illustrates one of the key ideas of the album: that a happy life is a life without worries, and one only has to see the line "All kinds of sadness I've left behind me" to understand that. The narrator calls himself "the Whistler," i.e. the one that always whistles, as we usually do when we are happy and don't have anything to worry about. But "the Whistler" may also simply mean "the one who plays the whistle," and there is a good deal of tin-whistle in the music and the whole album.
    This idea is corroborated by the line
    "I have a fife and a drum to play" in which the word "fife" is punctuated by a flying series of notes from Ian's flute, as the word "drum" is punctuated by the sound of a real drum. So the character is pictured as a flute-player, a new minstrel-like character, a concept that we know Ian is very fond of. And the main characteristic of this minstrel is that he is a wandering musician, as he explicitly tells us: "I am the first piper who calls the sweet tune / but I must be gone by the seventh day." So from the start he warns us that he can't stay with us, that he has to go elsewhere to spread his message of love to other people, but he does also say that we are welcome to follow him on his journey, in order to help him in his difficult task: "Climb in the saddle and whistle along", that is to say, "become Whistlers as well."
    So I don't think that it is a love song at all, because there is no reference to a woman anywhere. I think rather that Ian wants to paint a new character of hope, the same herald or emissary as in the song "Songs from the Wood", who will speak on behalf of Nature. The line
    "But I'll be yours for ever and ever" certainly lends to confusion, but I think that what he means by that is that if we decide to follow him, he'll become our friend for life, just as in "Songs from the Wood" he says that if we join the chorus, i.e. if we sing and whistle with him, it'll make of us honest men, that is to say true in friendship.

    "Deep red are the sun-sets in mystical places.
    Black are the nights on summer-day sands.
    We'll find the speck of truth in each riddle.
    Hold the first grain of love in our hands."

    Ha! Now we come to something which is very difficult to interpret! It sounds to me like pure poetry, that is to say words that may have a deeply hidden meaning which only the narrator knows, but it also resembles a kind of magical incantation. The last line is one of the most powerful Ian ever wrote: it is, as the grass growing through pavements in "Jack-in-the-Green", full of an overwhelming sensation of hope. The Whistler tells us that we will, with him, sow the seeds for a better world where love will be the lot of everyone, he invites us to follow him and to build this new world with him by joining hands in a sign of mutual friendship.
    * Fred Sowa

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Pibroch (Cap In Hand)

  • This is a song of unrequited love. A man is travelling through the woods to his love's home after hesitating for long to propose to her or express his feelings. He finds out, that he is too late for that, since there is another man with her. Pibrochs (in Gaelic: pi˛baireached) are a form of funeral music, dirge or lament, very hard to play and therefore also called 'big music' (ce˛l mˇr), quite different from the 'little music' (ce˛l beag): jigs, reels and strathspeys.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • A pibroch is one of three traditional Scottish dances. They sound pretty well when being played by real highlanders; visit any Highland-Game anywhere in Scotland and you will hear a rich variety of Pibrochs being played.
    * Clemens Bayer (SCC vol 9, nr. 14)
  • A pibroch is a formal Scottish dance, or series of variations on a theme played by bagpipes.
    * Neil Thomasson (SCC vol.9 nr. 14)

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Fire At Midnight

  • Once again a beautiful love song that describes the joy of coming home from a hard working day and spending time with one's wife. Ian said he wrote the song after a long day in the studio. The song breaths an atmosphere of relaxation, ease, harmony and - perhaps - gratitude.
    * Jan Voorbij
  • The genius of Ian is to have placed this song at the end of the album, \line because it is the more hopeful of all, and because it acts as a closing \line scen e taking place at midnight, after "another working day" that might be \line the writing of the album, or the journey of the Whistler to teach people how \line to be happy. It inscribes itself in the continuity of the whole album and at \line the same time acts as a conclusion to it. I really think this is one of the \line most powerful songs Ian ever wrote, but it is a pity that it is so short!
    * Fred Sowa

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To summarize: the first album of the 'trilogy' is mostly celebratory. There are love songs, prurient songs and songs that celebrate nature and traditions c.q. folklore from ancient, pre-Christian religions, that were 'nature, earth based'. Modern society makes only the occasional intrusion into the green world painted by lyrics and music. 'Songs From The Wood' offers us some special qualities, and reveals an ingenuity that makes the album a masterpiece.
* Jan Voorbij


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