I had a friend and work colleague, a woman who loved life and was interested in everything that came along, and who died far too young of cancer in her early forties. By her request this poignant farewell to life by the folk-singer Ewan MacColl was played at her humanist funeral. Certainly for me it expressed far more of her spirit than any hymn could have done. Her ashes were indeed taken to ‘some high place of heather, rock and ling’ and scattered to the wind. I cannot now hear the song without thinking of her.
Notes: Glyder Fach is a mountain in Wales; Cùl Beag is a mountain in the northwest highlands of Scotland;Scafell is a mountain in the Lake District, England; Suilven is a mountain in Scotland; Bleaklow is a peat-covered moorland in Derbyshire, England.
The sleeve notes add the following:
‘Ewan’s love of life, his involvement in politics, his passionate attachment to the traditional music and to theatre never abated, even with the onset of ill health and old age. Although not the last song he wrote, this was meant as a farewell to the world and to the people he loved’
Ewan MacColl (1915-1989) was a seminal figure in the British folk revival of the nineteen-fifties and sixties. One is grateful for all the pioneering work he did in this area, such as the early radio ballads, and in collecting folk songs: he was the first, for example, to rescue the haunting ‘Scarborough Fair’ from obscurity. I admit, though, that I find him a rather problematic character. Apparently his virtues did not include tolerance for other people’s opinions, and his passionate identification with the cause of the working man led him to a lifelong veneration for Joseph Stalin that some may consider questionable: he left the Communist Party in the nineteen-eighties because he felt it had become too moderate, but perhaps in the light of recent events would by now have rejoined it. My feelings, therefore, are uneasily split between admiration and dissent. Yet he could write with love, as he does here, and he could speak for the love in others, as he did for my friend, and those are things that should, I think, weigh something in the balance of a life.
The Joy Of Living
Farewell, you northern hills, you mountains all goodbye,
Moorland and stony ridges, crags and peaks, goodbye.
Glyder Fach farewell, Cùl Beag, Scafell, cloud-bearing Suilven,
Sun-warmed rock and the cold of Bleaklow’s frozen sea,
The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains,
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living.
Farewell to you, my love, my time is almost done,
Lie in my arms once more until the darkness comes.
You filled all my days, held the night at bay, dearest companion,
Years pass by and they’re gone with the speed of birds in flight
Our lives like the verse of a song heard in the mountains.
Give me your hand and love and join your voice with mine
We’ll sing of the hurt and pain and the joy of living.
Farewell to you, my chicks, soon you must fly alone
Flesh of my flesh, my future life, bone of my bone.
May your wings be strong, may your days be long, safe be your journey
Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love,
May it bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving.
Eagerly savour each new day and the taste of its mouth.
Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living
Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling,
Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind,
So that I may be part of all you see, the air you are breathing.
I’ll be part of the curlew’s cry and the soaring hawk,
The blue milkwort and the sundew hung with diamonds,
I’ll be riding the gentle wind that blows through your hair
Reminding you how we shared in the joy of living.