Friday, August 5, 2011

1000 SONGS - DAY 96: SONG # 126

Day 96: A song written in remembrance of a certain event

"River in the Pines" is a traditional country ballad. It was written in remembrance of the dangers of lumbering on the Chippewa river in Wisconsin. The song revolves around a young woman named Mary who lost her husband Charlie in an accident . It has been made known to a wider public by Joan Baez who has recorded a version of it on her album "Farewell Angelina". I do not include her version here, but two other, maybe lesser known ones. The first is by The Willard Grant Conspiracy, the opening track of their album Regard the End, in a beautiful live version from Rockpalast:

Second one is done in a different style, nevertheless it is as straight to the heart as Mr. Fisher's rendering. The version by The Deep Dark Woods, a Canadian Band, labelled as "Alternative Country" (to me. this sounds like good old country rock).

Both versions feature the shortend lyrics as they appear on Joan Baez' record. Here is the full text of the poem (taken from: Ballads and Songs of the Shantey-Boy by Franz Rickaby (1926 Harvard University Press) collected from William Bartlett of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the oldest version of the song:

Oh Mary was a maiden when the birds began to sing.
She was fairer than the blooming rose so early in the spring.
Her thoughts were gay and happy in the morning gay and fine,
For her lover was a river-boy from the River in the Pines.

Now Charlie got married to this Mary in the spring,
When the trees were budding early and the birds began to sing.
"Now darling I must leave you in the happiness of love,
And make some V's and X's for you, my darling dove.
And early in the autumn when the fruit is in the wine,
I'll return to you, my darling, from the River in the Pines.

'T was early in the morning in Wisconsin's dreary clime
When he rode the fatal rapids for that last and fatal time.
The found his body lying on the rocky shores below,
Where the silent water ripples and the whispering cedars blow.

The woodsmen gathered round him on the bright and cloudless morn,
And with sad and tearful eyes they viewed his cold and lifeless form.
"I would send a message to her, but I fear she would repine."
Spoke a friend of Charlie Williams from the River in the Pines.

When Mary heard these tidings from that river far away,
It was in the early springtime, in the early month of May.
At first she seemed uncertain and no more her eyes did shine,
But her saddened thoughts still wandered to that River in the Pines.

Not long ago I visited there, not many years ago;
It was a Southern city where strange faces come and go.
I spied a gray-haired maiden, both very old and gray,
And my thoughts turned back again once more to that river far away.

She smiled though when she saw me, though she looked old and gray.
"I am waiting for my Charlie boy," these words to me did say.
"And early in the autumn, when the fruit is in the wine,
I'll return to meet my Charlie from the River in the Pines."

Now every raft of lumber that comes down the Chippewa,
There's a lonely grave that's visited by drivers on their way.
They plant wild flowers upon it in the morning fair and fine;
'T is the grave of Charlie Williams from the River in the Pines.

There exist other version of the lyrics, f.e. to be found in Lumbering Songs from the Northern Woods by Edith Fowke (1970 American Folklore Society). Thank you, guys from Mudcat Café for the info on that. Yet another version of the lyrics can be found in an essay on another tragic accident on the Chippewa River (Tragedy at Little Falls) that happend in 1905. Here, the song is credited to William W. Bartlett. I cannot decide, whether the author got all the facts right, but I could look through all the essays featured on JSTOR that deal with the history of the area.

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