Images of a Red Bird Traveling Indirectly to the Rivers of Babylon and the Irish Easter Rising
by Steven McCabe
A friend of mine once told me, cheerfully, about a cardinal outside her window. I created an ambiguous image for her of a woman wearing a bird in flight & recently revisited this image, creating altered versions.
Surfing the web I discovered a poem published in a Georgia newspaper in 1873, a few short years after the American civil war, about a red bird: http://wildbirdsbroadcasting.blogspot.ca/2013/07/lines-to-red-bird-poem-from-1873.html The words …While at heart I wear the willow jumped out at me.
Investigating this phrase I discovered Scottish Celtic singer Karen Matheson’s haunting recording of ‘I Will Not Wear the Willow.’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-jm2P9UWLA
@ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Grieving we read Wear the willow: To mourn the death of a mate; to suffer from unrequited love. The willow, especially the weeping willow, has long been a symbol of sorrow or grief. Psalm 137:1-2 is said to explain why the branches of the willow tree droop: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
Wear the willow appeared in print by the 16th century but is rarely, if ever, heard today. There’s Marie wearing the willow because Engemann is away courting Madam Carouge. (Katharine S. Macquoid, At the Red Glove, 1885)
Steeleye Span had a hit song in 1975 with lyrics about wearing willow in a hat. http://www.last.fm/music/Steeleye+Span/_/All+Around+My+Hat The song “All Around my Hat” (Round 567, Laws P31) is of nineteenth century English origin. In an early version, dating from the 1820s, a Cockney costermonger vowed to be true to his fiancee, who had been sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for theft and to mourn his loss by wearing green willow sprigs in his hatband for “a twelve-month and a day,” in a traditional symbol of mourning.
In Ireland, Peadar Kearney adapted the song to make it relate to an Republican lass whose lover has died in the Easter Rising, and who swears to wear the Irish tricolour in her hat in remembrance.
Willow \Wil”low\, n. [OE. wilowe, wilwe, AS. wilig, welig; akin to OD. wilge, D. wilg, LG. wilge. Cf. Willy.] [1913 Webster](Bot.) Any tree or shrub of the genus Salix, including many species, most of which are characterized often used as an emblem of sorrow, desolation, or desertion. “A wreath of willow to show my forsaken plight.” –Sir W. Scott. Hence, a lover forsaken by, or having lost, the person beloved, is said to wear the willow. [1913 Webster] And I must wear the willow garland For him that’s dead or false to me. –Campbell. [1913 Webster]