Tag Archives: life

Language and Perception

One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar, or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off-waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound, close at hand-a chuckle of laughter. And if so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark. Either way, a good, good sound. I’m not mad enough to take such an experience as evidence of anything. It is simply the leaping into imaginative activity of an idea which I would always have theoretically admitted- the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.
.
Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
.
-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
.
This could pass without comment, and for the most part, I will allow it to do so. I read this passage, this morning, for the first time. I am sure subsequent readings will reveal other facets, but for now, two things strike me.
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One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all.
.
Someone whose writing I greatly value and respect feels the same restrictiveness of language that I do.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
.
Yes. Just… yes. If I could remind myself of this constantly, I would, and if I could teach others one fundamental rule for interacting with each other and the world, it would be this.

I am not dead yet, and a Liebster Award

Sorry for dropping off the map. I still have many posts I want to form for you, and many things others have posted that I want to read, but I may still be quite slow in catching up. Life = crazy at present.

Until I can get my act together, I will gladly accept the prompts of Evan, who has nominated me for Liebster Award. If you have forgotten what that is, see here. I will not nominate anyone new today because my brain is mush. But thank you, Evan!

  1. What is it that inspires you to practice your art?
    It’s hard to put into words. Sights and sounds, but more than that. Thoughts and paths of reasoning, but more than that. I write and I sculpt because there isn’t a way to capture or communicate these things and art and writing are as near as I can come to doing so.
  2. What is the one story or image you long to capture above all others?
    …you’re kidding me, right? The closest I can come to answering this one is to say that there is a feeling, or a series of feelings, that cannot be captured, as mentioned above, but I’d like to come close. As far as writing is concerned, I’ll just be content if I can open a window for others to see some of what I see. All the books I really love make me feel like I am looking through the window of another person.
  3. If you were able to choose your last words right this second, what would they be?
    Wishful thinking, or what I would actually say if I died right now, because I imagine there’d be a few expletives in the latter. How about “Run, you fools!”
  4. You have to choose one song, right now, to listen to for the rest of your life. What is it?
    In all honesty, I’d rather have none at all, because one song for a lifetime would get reaaaaaaaaally annoying after, at most, 50 listenings. It would have to be something instrumental, to lessen the sheer irritation. How about Bear McCreary’s theme for the Battlestar Galactica/Admiral Adama? Or, better yet, Roslin and Adama’s theme. It is a beautiful piece of music and, while shorter in some respects, has more variety in it.
    Here:
  5. Where do you want your work to take you?
    My job-work? Creative work? Yard work? I hope my job continues to pay the bills and be relatively enjoyable and fulfilling. It had better not try and make me move, either.  My creative work takes me lots of places, but I don’t see it as a vehicle, if that makes sense. I hope my yard work takes me on the path of having a great yard with lots of wildlife.
  6. In your opinion, what is the purest form of creative expression?
    You are making the Art History major in me militant. There is no “form” that is pure in that way. What is pure creative expression depends on the person, not the medium. ;)
  7. Wh0, in your tangible life, has influenced your path in writing the most? You don’t have to name names if you don’t want to.
    Probably my brother, from his own creative story-telling gift. He started telling me stories when I was a tyke and never stopped.
  8. Same question, except rather than just with writing, your entire life.
    So, Evan, how long did it take you to eliminate the only-sort-of-impossible questions until you had those perfect ten unanswerable ones? ;)
  9. You can spend the rest of your life in your dream location. Where is it?
    In this reality? The Smokey Mountains. In any reality? I’d like to try Middle Earth at certain periods and places too numerous to be easily named.
  10. Why is it that you do what you do, both in your art and in your life? Why do you keep going in the face of more immediate gratification, rather than just give in?
    There are a lot of things, from my family, to the beauty I see in the world and a few solid friends, but the linchpin is my faith. When that linchpin is removed, as it once was, the only hope I see for the universe, myself, or others, dies and all motivation within me dies with it.

Christmas in the Trenches

Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=16260&picture=poppy-flower
Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil

My last offering is one that I have not known for very long, but I have heard of the events on which it was based. The character of Francis Tolliver is fictional, but the event he describes is real. Words fail me at this point, but the song speaks for itself. Merry Christmas to All, and God’s blessings especially on all who, today, face war, persecution and strife. 

Christmas in the Trenches,

by John McCutcheon
.
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
From Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany, to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
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‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
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I was lying with my messmates on the cold and rocky ground,
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
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“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me.
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony.
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
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As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I,
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
.
“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
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Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ’em hell.
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We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home.
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band of men.
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Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that beat that wondrous night:
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
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‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
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My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
.
© 1984 John McCutcheon – All rights reserved


Advent: Go Tell it on the Mountain

Here is my next-to-last offering this year. Like several of the other carols I have highlighted, I first heard this version on the “Home for Christmas” album.

This African-American spiritual was first transcribed by John Wesley Work Jr., a choral director, songwriter, and a collector/compiler of folk music, slave songs, and spirituals. It was first published in Folk Songs of the Amer­i­can Ne­gro in 1907.  J. W. Work Jr. was from Nashville Tennessee, taught at Fisk University and directed and promoted the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The version I fell in love with was recorded by the incomparable Odetta Holmes. The words differ a bit from those recorded by Work Jr., but such is the way of folk music. It is more wandering, but still rich with imagery.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

In the time of David,
Some called him a king.
If a child is true-born
The Lord will hear him singing.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

When I was a sinner,
I sought both night and day.
I asked the Lord to help a’me,
And He showed me the way.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

He made me a watchman
Upon a city wall,
And if I am a good soul,
I am the least of all.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, well a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

.

Music copyright to Odetta Holmes, 1982

Listen Here


Advent: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

This is one of the few carols that is both ubiquitous and among my favorites. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it or how many versions of it I encounter. I love it, I sing it, and it still has the power to bring me to tears. The call for help, echoed by the assurance of an answer seems, to me, the definition of the hope we have in God.

The song may have its origins as early as the 8th Century, but may be younger than that. It was translated by John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin in the 1800’s.

The hardest part of this post is actually choosing a version to highlight. There are so many beautiful renditions out there. I finally settled on the Mediaeval Baebes, from their beautiful album Salva Nos.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni, O Jesse virgula,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, Clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude caelica;
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai,
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Music copyright Mediaeval Baebes, 2003.


Advent: Third Carol for Christmas Day

I considered a more cutting selection for today because sometimes I forget, along with many others, who Christ is, who He chose to consort with, and that His warmest words were for the poor, the outcasts, and those in distress. To those in prosperity and power, his love tended to manifest in harsh words, a needed wake-up call for those willing to hear it.

We risk becoming too comfortable.  Sometimes we need a good shaking-up. I believe that God wants us comforted, but not comfortable. Sometimes we need to hear the words He spoke to those who had every worldly reason to be satisfied with themselves.

But as I began to write this post, something told me that this is not the time for shaking. Doubtless that time will come, but maybe I’m not the only one who has had a rough year, and maybe anyone who reads this is in a season where they need to be comforted, not exhorted. We need reminders, too, that we are loved and how much. That is really the message of this season, isn’t it? Love manifest in the coming of the Child of Heaven.

In that spirit, I bring you a gorgeous song that reminds me of how much I am loved, and fills me with gratitude for a gift that I could never deserve. You can read the very long lyrics here, but the version I am posting is much shorter and, I think, more to the point.

The song itself is called “Third Carol for Christmas Day” or “Ye Sons of Men with Me Rejoice” and was recorded in A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas, by Rev. William Devereux in 1728.  It is an Irish carol, and my only encounter with it has been through Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny on The Very Best of Celtic Christmas. The album is hit or miss for my tastes, but worth its cost. This song, and “Circle of Joy” are my favorites. As always, please remember that these renditions of songs are under copyright, so if you like them and want to listen to them over and over, do the right thing and purchase them.

Third Carol for Christmas Day,
by Rev. William Devereux, 1728

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Ye sons of men with me rejoice,
And praise the Heav’ns with heart and voice,
For joyful tidings you we bring,
Of this Heav’nly Babe, the new born King.
.

Who from His mighty throne above
Came down to manifest His love
To all such as would Him embrace,
And would be born again in grace.
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This mystery for to unfold:
When the King of Kings, He did behold
The poor unhappy state of man,
He sent His own beloved Son.
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An angel sent by Heaven’s command
To a spotless virgin in the land;
One of the seed of David, King,
These joyful tidings for to bring.
.

He hailed this Virgin, full of grace,
And told her that in nine month’s space,
She should bring forth a Son, and He,
The Savior of mankind should be.
.

Music copyright Maighread ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny, 2004.


Advent: Brugundian Carol

Some carols are very imaginative. That is to say, the writers were not overly concerned with fidelity to the stories of the Christ’s birth given in scripture.

While I am wary of wandering from scripture in terms of doctrine, I am often glad that these writers dared to conjure images and stories in the spirit of the faith that are not confined to the biblical accounts. They increase our spiritual imagery and lexicon and make important connections across humanity.

Apart from the concept that Jesus was born in a stable among animals, we have no biblical stories about how these beasts might have reacted. But then again, it is clear that the following song is only partly talking of oxen and donkeys. I first heard this piece as sung by Pete Seeger, on the “Home for Christmas” album. In other places, his rendition is called “Carol of the Beasts” and can be purchased as such here along with other carols.

From what I have been able to dig up, the song was originally written in French by one Bernard LaMonnoye of Burgundy (thus the title) in the 18th Century, and was translated into English by Oscar Brand. Seeger’s rendition differs a little from others in lyrics, but such is the nature of folk songs, and that is one of the reasons I love folk music so much.

Burgundian Carol
by Bernard LaMonnoye, translated by Oscar Brand
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And on that night, it has been told
These humble beasts, so rough and rude
Throughout the night of Holy Birth
Drank no water, ate no food.
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How many oxen and donkeys now,
Dressed in ermine, silk, and such,
How many oxen and donkeys you know
At such a time would do as much?
.
As soon as to these humble beasts
Appeared our Lord, so mild and sweet.
With joy they knelt before His grace
And gently kissed his tiny feet.
.
How many oxen and donkeys now,
If they were there when first He came,
How many oxen and donkeys you know
At such a time would do the same?
.

Copyright to Pete Seeger, 1982

Listen Here

You can learn more about “Home for Christmas,” and listen to most of it here: The Basement Rug


Advent: Cantique De Noel

Another Christmas album I grew up with, and which is very dear to my heart, is “Noël” by Joan Baez. Many of my parents’ generation will know that name, and I hope that many of my own will as well. Baez has one of the most beautiful voices, and interesting song-selections, of any artist I know.  If you are unfamiliar with her, look her up.

If you love beautiful, stirring Christmas music, go buy “Noël” immediately. It is worth far more than its price. It is hard for me to choose just one song from this album, but I will try and share more when next Christmas comes around. I have always loved the song “Oh Holy Night,” but I especially love Joan’s rendition in the original French (I do not know why the mp3 album on Amazon claims that it is in German… so weird). In any case, I love the song, and the last stanza, in particular, brings me to tears.

Quick disclaimer: I know very little French, so I cannot vouch for the spelling, Baez’s pronunciation (though it sounds pretty good to my untrained ear) or the fidelity of the translation that follows. I embrace corrections from those who know better.

Cantique De Noel
composed by Adolphe Adam
to the poem “Minuit, Chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians)
by Placide Cappeau
Translated by
John Sullivan Dwight
.
Minuit, Chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,
Où l’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!”
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Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave :
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave,
L’amour unit ceux qu’enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C’est pour nous tous qu’il naît, qu’il souffre et meurt.
.
Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!
~.~
Translation:
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Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
.
The Redeemer has broken every bond:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
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People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

.

Music Copyright to Joan Baez and others, 1966

Listen Here


Advent: Don Oiche ud ImBethil

I first heard this song on the Bells of Dublin album by The Chieftains. The album is well worth purchasing as a whole. It holds quite a variety of songs, but this one is, I think, the most beautiful. In fact, I have never heard a version of this song that I like better, though nostalgia might have something to do with that.

My research, so far, has turned up nothing of this song’s origins. Its roots go deep into history, and if anyone has traced them back, I would love to know.

I cannot vouch for my Gaelic spelling, or the accuracy of the translation, but the words of both capture the quiet but thrilling joy that I associate with the birth of my Lord.

Don Oiche Ud I mBethil

I sing of a night in Bethlehem,

A night as bright as dawn.

I sing of that night in Bethlehem,

The night the Word was born.

The skies are glowing gayly,

The Earth in white is dressed.

See Jesus in his cradle,

Drink deep in his mother’s breast.

And there on a lonely hillside

The shepherds bow down in fear

When the heavens open brightly

And God’s message rings out so clear.

“Glory now to the Father

In all the heavens high,

And peace to his friends on Earth below!”

Is all the angels’ cry.

~

don oíche úd i mBeithil

beidh tagairt ar ghrian go brách

don oíche úd i mBeithil

go dtáinig an Briathar slán

tá gríosghrua ar spéartha,

‘s an talamh ‘na chlúdach bán

féach íosagán sa chléibhín

‘s an Mhaighdean in aoibhneas grá

ar leacain lom an tsléibhe

go nglacann na haoirí scáth

nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire

tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil

céad glóir anois don Athair

i bhFlaitheasa thuas go hard

is feasta fós ar talamh

d’fheara, dea-mhéin síocháin

~

Music Copyright The Chieftains, 1991.


Advent: Balulalow

My past three entries have been somber, at least in tune. I confess, I am partial to the minor keys and the slow, haunting melodies, so there will be more of that sort. I do have some variety in my tastes, though, and the quicker and more cheerful tunes and songs are sprinkled through my playlists. I highlighted this one last year, but I enjoy it enough to re-post it, and it should break up the monotony a little. At least, I hope it will.

The words are attributed to three brothers in the 1500’s: James, John and Robert Wedderburn of Scotland. According to Wikipedia (I fear I haven’t the time for more in-depth research than that), these brothers re-worded numerous secular (and presumably bawdy) ballads to give them a more pious bent. The title of their work is, apparently, Ane Compendious Booke of Godly and Spirituall Songs collected out of sundrie partes of the Scripture, with sundrie of other Ballates changed out of prophaine sanges, for avoyding of sinne and harlotrie, with augmentation of sundrie gude and godlie Ballates not contenit in the first editioun.

I can’t read that title without wanting to laugh. The rendition by which I was first introduced to the song also makes the laughter bubble up in me, but more from joy than amusement. How can we not rejoice at the memory of our Savior’s birth? Thank you, D, for introducing me to Balulalow as sung by The Oreilly Consort with vocals by Lisa Edwards. You may purchase the album, A Celtic Christmas, here.

Balulalow

.

I come from hevin heich to tell
The best nowells that e’er befell.
To you thir tythings trew I bring
And I will of them say and sing:

.

This day to you is born ane child
Of Mary meik and Virgin mild.
That blissit bairn bening and kind
Sall you rejoyce baith hart and mind.

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Lat us rejoyis and be blyth
And with the Hyrdis go full swyth
To see what God in his grace hath done
Throu Christ to bring us to his throne.

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My saull and life stand up and see
Wha lyis in ane cribbe of tree.
What Babe is that, sa gude and fair?
It is Christ, God’s Son and Heir.

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O my deir hart, yung Jesus sweit,
Prepair thy creddill in my spreit!
And I sall rock thee in my hart
And never mair fra thee depart.

.

O I sall praise thee evermoir
With sangis sweit unto thy gloir.
The kneis of my hart sall I bow
And sing that rycht Balulalow.

.

I come from hevin heich to tell
The best nowells that e’er befell.
To you thir tythings trew I bring
And I will of them say and sing:

.

This day to you is born ane child
Of Mary meik and Virgin mild!
That blissit bairn bening and kind
Sall you rejoyce baith hart and mind!

.

Listen here.


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