I first heard “She Moved Through the Fair” in 1957 sung by Cynthia Gooding on an Elektra recording. She entitled it “My Young Love.” As I recall she did not sing the fatalistic third verse. (I still have the LP, but no turntable, so I can’t check.) According to the liner notes, she herself did not claim to know the origins of the song, only that “It is a song known by most folk singers, and I cannot say where I learned it. Each singer has a slightly different slant on what went before or came after this apparent fragment.” And so we arrive at Gwyneth Glyn’s set at the Welsh Showcase during the English Folk Expo. I heard the familiar melody and at first did not recognize it; it was stirring some dusty old files in my brain that had not been consulted for ages….. and it was being sung in Welsh. Glyn is known as both a poet and singer in Wales, so once I knew the video was okay to post I wrote and asked her why she had decided to translate the song. Here is her reply: “I’ve always been fascinated by the folk song ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ and especially Sandy Denny’s interpretation of it, which evokes such intensity and mystery. So many great artists have covered this song; how could I possibly ever make it my own? Perhaps by singing it in my mother tongue – Welsh! But how could an English language folk song ever work in a much older language like Welsh, with its very different grammatical structures and nuances? I think it works because of the simplicity of the phrases and the purity of the images: “Like a swan in the evening moves over the lake.” And I think it works because the narrative of the original song is reminiscent of old Welsh folk songs and verses, some of which are very simple, and yet deeply haunting. Hearing a different singer’s interpretation of a song opens a new window on that song. Similarly, interpreting it in a different language opens another window, allowing you to experience the piece in a new light.”
For those of you who are not familiar with the cryptic lyric, here it is:
She Moved Through the Fair
Author attribution: Padraic Collum
My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind -And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kind” -And she stepped away from me and this she did say: -It will not be long, love, till our wedding day” -As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair -And fondly I watched her move here and move there -And then she turned homeward with one star awake -Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake -The people were saying, -no two e’er were wed -But one had a sorrow that never was said -And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear, -And that was the last that I saw of my dear. -Last night she came to me, -my dead love came in -So softly she came that her feet made no din -As she laid her hand on me and this she did say -“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”
The song segues into an original in English by Glyn, “Dig me A Hole”
showing that Glyn can write an equally mysterious lyric on her own!
For more about Gwyneth, visit: http://gwynethglyn.com/en/