Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Woody Guthrie Wake

October 10, 1967

". . . I shall not murder the mankind of her going with a grave truth . . ." -- Dylan Thomas. "A Refusal To Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London"


According to Webster, a wake is "a watch kept at night, or a vigil, as for some ritual purpose; especially, an all-night vigil over a corpse before burial . . ." Among my Celtic forebearers, the wake was such, with the hag-women keening the caoine, the lament for the dead, while the other women would do their private weeping in some back room of the house which allowed the men of the clan to dance to the fiddle and the bagpipe about the coryse with drink, food, and tobacco.

But Woody Guthrie was a folk-singer, a balladeer, and a writer of songs and an American, though his fathers' fathers wore the kilt and knew well the taste of the claymore.

His clan in Columbus gathered in a corner of Tuttle Field on Saturday's grey grim afternoon on the green grass amongst the smells of rain to come and the autumn forest of the park. Of the few that came, some were bearded and some were not; some wore the psychedelic uniform and some did not. They came in cars, on bicycles, on foot, and one on a motorcycle. With the prodding of two guitars and an African drum, a few sang those songs of his that they knew. They did not know all the words to some of the songs that sang of life sometimes bitterly, sometimes sadly, and sometimes joyously.

It was not a sad time, for their clan is not much on sadness, which is a very human trait. They smoked and laughed and ate apples while they sang. It was a gentle thing, not boisterous, not bawdy, but comfortable feeling. They talked of other things like the march on Washington, the possibilities of establishing a Digger community in Columbus, and private things, each to each.

As they had gathered, they departed, like leaves blown across the field by the fall wind in some natural, instinctual pattern. As do all clans, they exorcised the dreaded spirit of their dead with their own gentle, loving rites to pick up the string of life again with only a burr of a knot in its length.

It was the way that Woody, if it was possible for him to have any say in the matter, would have liked it to be.

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