“My Father and Mother Will Kill Me” (no. 515 Carmichael)
According to the informant who sang this poem, it is recounts the tale of a young woman who was tending her father’s cattle when she encountered a fairy lover, who seized her and threatened to abduct her.
Who are the poem’s speakers? What seems about to happen as the poem opens?
What consequences does the young woman fear from this encounter? Is it plausible that she is speaking to a fairy whom she has never seen before?
What structural features can be discerned in this poem?
Is the setting of this poem important?
What type of society, kinship and family patterns does it seem to reflect? What kinds of poetic traditions?
This is one of many “fairy poems”; why do you think these may have been popular?
“The Hunter and the Fairy” (Carmichael, no. 506)
According to the informant, this tells of a “little woman” (a fairy) who was found by a hunter and complained to him that she was in grief because she had been prevented from returning to her home by a “big worldling” who had gone out to fetch water. Nonetheless he carried her to his home and forced her to tend his cows.
Who is the poem’s speaker, and what are some causes for her sorrow?
Whom does she threaten, and why?
What seems her relationship with the hunter?
What effect is created by the fact that it is the fairy who speaks, and not the human? By the fact that she is described as very small?
What do you make of this poem? Do you see any similarities between it and the preceding one?
What seems to happen in fairy/human relationships? Are these gendered?
“The Lullaby of the Snow” (Carmichael, no. 476)
This is a historical poem about the aftermath of the Massacre of Glencoe, in which 78 Scottish refugees were murdered by the soldiers of King William of Orange on February 13th, 1692 as they struggled through the snow to reach the meeting place appointed for them to swear allegiance to the king. By legend one of the king’s soldiers ordered to chase and kill the fleeing victims heard a dying woman singing a farewell to comfort her child, and he gave her a blanket and food so that she could survive.
What advantage is gained by the choice of speaker?
What does she feel about the circumstances of her (seemingly) impending death?
How would the poem be changed if the speaker had hope of rescue? What features of the song make it poignant?Would you describe the song as simple? Is there a progression of thought?
“The Black Cock” (Carmichael. no. 475)
According to the singer, this poem tells of a woman who had just delivered her child, who watched her husband behead a sheep in sacrifice, and then beheld in horror her son’s attempt to imitate his father by cutting off his brother’s head. When she jumped up to stop him, the infant in her arms was killed instead, and she fled in madness to join the deer on the hills. There she lived with the herd despite the attempts of her mother and husband to recapture her, until after seven years her husband attempted to remarry, and she appeared at the wedding in sane mind to prevent the marriage and return to her former life.
Who seems to be speaking, and why may she be appealing to the black cock? What symbolism do you think may be associated with the cock?
What seems to be her attitude toward Christ and religion?
Whom does she blame for her problems, and on what grounds? What does she think may be the means of remedy?
Does the poem seem to reflect very closely the narrative of its origins provided by the informant?
Based on these poems, what conclusions can you draw about the circumstances in which these Celtic songs were composed and sung?
Who would have listened to them, and how might they have responded to them?
What did they expect from poetry, and what purposes might it have served?