Proper Lyrics

"Proper" in the sense of "property", or the French amour-propre, self-esteem.

As an only child, a bookworm, a bit of a nerd, or just as me, I have a relatively rich inner mythology, iconography. Some of it is canonicalized into verses, poems or lyrics, that have run through my head for years, bridging my young or adolescent self to my now-self.

These lyrics are memorized, or just floating somewhere in my mind, or written down in the various scattered and sometimes lost notebooks that make up the paper trail of my inner architecture. I figured I'd put some of them up here, to embody them in one more place, to let you read them, and to impose more of my inner universe on the apparently-outer world.

I make no claim that this is especially good poetry, mind you...

The empty hills and the cool brown earth
  have their own slow poetry
Written on the wind
  one stanza every thousand years.

One stanza every thousand years
  of light, and fog,
  and rain in the trees.

One stanza every thousand years
  of night, and water,
  and the hardness of rock.

There are other versions of that in my mind; in some, it's "the empty hills and the winter-bare trees". There is of course something impressively eternal about the spareness of winter, the hardness of rock.

When the snows of winter falling
Gently whisper in the night,
I can hear the world calling
I can feel the snowbird's flight.

There's a whisper in the air,
There's a call that I must heed:
To turn my footsteps outward,
And to follow winter's seed
(Winter's seed).

There's a few-note tune that goes along with that one. I wrote it, or I first discovered it, in my restless adolescence, poking around in a parking-lot where the snow had turned hard and crunchy and dirty, and I was enjoying the drama of my Self. The youth shows in the words, of course; but that's OK.

I come from a land of climbing spires
  that, empty, spear the sky.
I come from a land of haunted mires
  where winds like maidens sigh
And the sinking sun casts a blood-red light
  as the clouds of evening close,
And the shrinking town dream of ancient might
  as they rest in last repose.

For my world is old, and its rivers slide
  slow to the weary sea,
And the sky is gold over ancient hills
  that beckon still to me.

That's the more-or-less stable part; there are another couple of stanzas in which the singer complains about how this here world isn't like that. The words have never quite settled down in my mind, but here's one of the possible states:

I have travelled far, and I've seen your world.
  I've seen what you call home.
And I fain would go back to my long-loved lands
  never again to roam.

For your world is young, and its voices grate
  on ears unused to noise,
And its favorite game is defying fate,
  and it kneels to its toys.

Points off for "fain", of course. Lots of well-sliding phrases in there, though: "spear the sky", "the clouds of evening close", "rest in last repose", "long-loved lands". Part of the chorus of the internal dialogue.

The mountain looms above the plain
Like stormclouds over driving rain
And oft the warbirds circle down,
To harry the ruins of the town
That stood on the plain an age ago,
When the world was young, and men still dreamed.

The topless towers are fallen now,
And all is grey and dusty wrack.
Pale weeds grow tall on the ancient track
That leads from the town to the mountaintop.

An ancient grave beside the road,
A weathered mound, a broken stone,
And worn chipped letters that barely say
"Here Lies a Dreamer, Alone"

I used to take hikes, or long walks, up into the various hills, and like everyone else I was frequently inspired.

I read this one in church once; it was a Unitarian church, so it was OK. It's called "A Polemic Against Religion".

A simple little choice to make
Between the birthing and the wake.
Cast your lot with him or him,
Dig your grave, put one foot in.
Esteem him highly, him you choose;
For you to win, he must not lose.

Go your own way? Not a chance!
He's the one that calls the dance.
It's folly, boy, to be yourself,
Just a poppet on the shelf.
Kiss your sacred soul farewell,
Let him send you down to Hell!
Maybe, if he likes your looks,
Notes you down well in his books,
Or if you pay him Sacrifice,
Perhaps your fate will be more -- nice.

Question him and you will be
Rotting in hell for eternity!
See his holy form ablaze
Telling all to bid him praise,
Uttering the sacred words
Verse by verse unto his herds.
Were you a stranger, you'd be dead.
"Xenophobe," the Prophet said.

You must choose, 'til your last breath:
Zest for life; or zest for death!

Reading it as text, you've probably already noticed the gimmick (how many normal poems have twenty-six lines, after all?). But hearing me read it, the audience didn't twig until I told them after the first reading, and then of course I got to read it again. I had quite an ego! In those days.

I walk in the rain
  where the sun never shines
And the mud flows over my shoes.

It's a long way down
  to the sunlit shore
And I've got a lot to lose.

There's nobody left to follow me,
No one to walk by my side.

I used to talk where the skies were clear,
And use the stars as my guide.

More adolescent angst there. It's funny how so many of the lyrics by which I still define myself are ten, twenty-five years old, and brimming with the pain and fear of self-becoming. Or, I suppose, it's perfectly natural.

I wrote that one ("I walk in the rain...") in my head during that same church poetry-reading, and I recited it when it was my turn. Ego again: I had the pleasure of telling one or two people (I remember telling my Dad specifically) that I had just written it on the spur of the moment, and wasn't reading it out of my notebook as I'd pretended to be. I hope I'm as good at smiling and praising my own kids' acts of blatant self-promotion as my Dad was (is!) with mine.

More lyrics later, perhaps.

March, 2000