Monday, August 24, 2009
The Long Black Veil
There's a long tradition in both high art and folk poetry of the song sung from beyond the grave. Tennyson wrote:
Come not, when I am dead,
To drop thy foolish tears upon my grave,
To trample round my fallen head,
And vex the unhappy dust thou wouldst not save.
There let the wind sweep and the plover cry;
But thou, go by.
Child, if it were thine error or thy crime
I care no longer, being all unblest:
Wed whom thou wilt, but I am sick of Time,
And I desire to rest.
Pass on, weak heart, and leave me where I lie:
Go by, go by.
The 1959 song "The Long Black Veil," by Lefty Frizzell, has one foot in that tradition, and the other in the equally long tradition of crime balladry. Here is a wonderful performance of the song as a duet sung by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell, from Cash's short-running television show at the end of the 1960s.