Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Years Creep Slowly By, Lorena...

*Warning: vile mood blogging ahead* 

Internets, three things stand at the forefront: 
  1. Blogger should have something like those mood icons on LiveJournal. (If it already does, don't tell me. I enjoy being wrong.)
  2. This is a crappy melancholy Sunday.
  3. It is generally unwise to tackle depressing Civil War songs on crappy melancholy Sundays, but that's precisely what I am going to do. 
So, if this is your shiny happy day, wait till the Monday blues hit to read. If not, join me for a blog post discussing Lorena, one of Civil War's saddest and most popular songs. I'll try to keep it reasonably short (famous last words).

Lorena was an antebellum song, but there is not much to say about its history before the war. The lyrics were written in 1857 by a Northern reverend for a real sweetheart who chose to marry another. She was nicknamed Lorena in the poem, presumably as an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's much quoted The Raven ("sorrow for the lost Lenore" vs. "a hundred months have passed, Lorena, since last I held your hand in mine." It's pretty obvious which one was written by a literary genius, but other than that, the connection is not that far-fetched, I guess). The music was written by Joseph Philbrick Webster, a songwriter and composer famous at the time.

During the war, the ballad became wildly popular in both the Confederate and the Union camps. What's more interesting, and a testament to its popularity, is that a few years after its publication a version with altered lyrics, known as Lorena's Answer, A Sequel to Lorena or Paul Vane, became available. In this new version, written by the same reverend, now happily married himself, Lorena pledged she hadn't forgotten her lover. (Someone call Andrew Cohen! We just found the perfect idea for his next passive-aggressive rant article.) You can read those lyrics as well as a nice though somewhat poetically  embellished history of the song on the Ohio Historical Society site. 

Joseph Webster
Lorena was perhaps the best-known love-song of its time, and as such, a reference to it couldn't be missing from Gone with the Wind. Besides being the inspiration behind Ella's middle name, the ballad is mentioned directly in the bazaar scene: 
"Then the fiddles, bull fiddles, accordions, banjos and knuckle-bones broke into a slow rendition of 'Lorena'--too slow for dancing, the dancing would come later when the booths were emptied of their wares. Scarlett felt her heart beat faster as the sweet melancholy of the waltz came to her: 
'The years creep slowly by, Lorena! 
The snow is on the grass again. 
The sun's far down the sky, Lorena . . .'
One-two-three, one-two-three, dip-sway--three, turn--two-three. What a beautiful waltz! She extended her hands slightly, closed her eyes and swayed with the sad haunting rhythm. There was something about the tragic melody and Lorena's lost love that mingled with her own excitement and brought a lump into her throat." 
--excerpted from Gone with the Wind, Chapter IX
When I was little and openly inclined to cheesiness, I was convinced that the only reason Margaret Mitchell chose this song was because its lyrics, melodramatic as they are, bear some resemblance to lines from Rhett's final speech. Now that I am older and only secretly inclined to cheesiness, I still think it could have been one of the reasons for her using it, besides how well it spoke for the period of course. It just works so well within the theme of lost love and missed chances. What do you think?

You'll find the lyrics after the jump if you're interested in making that comparison. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go fix myself up with some chocolate and Jane Austen (Crappy Sundays Remedy™). I am your typical girl, what do you know?

The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
     The snow is on the grass again;
The sun's low down the sky Lorena,
     The frost gleams where the flowers have been;
But the heart throbs on as lovely now,
     As when the summer days were nigh;
Oh, the sun can never dip so low,
     Adown affection's cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
     Since last I held your hand in mine,
And felt that pulse beat fast, Lorena,
     Though mine beat faster far than thine;
A hundred months -- 'twas flow'ry May,
     When up the hilly slopes we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
     And hear the distant church bells chimed.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
     More than we ever dared to tell,
And what we might have been, Lorena,
     Had but our loving prospered well --
But then, 'tis past, the years are gone,
     I'll not call up their shadowy forms;
I'll say to them, "Lost years, sleep on,
     Sleep on, nor heed life's pelting storms."

The story of the past, Lorena,
     Alas, I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
     They lived, but only lived to cheat;
I would not cause e'en one regret,
     To rankle in your bosom now;
For "if we try, we may forget,"
     Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
     They burn within my memory yet;
They touch some tender chords, Lorena,
     Which thrill and tremble with regret;
'Twas not thy woman's heart that spoke;
     Thy heart was always true to me --
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
     The tie which linked my soul to thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
     The past -- is in eternal past,
Our heads will soon lie down, Lorena,
     Life's tide is ebbing out so fast;
There is a future -- Oh, thank God --
     Of life this is so small a part,
'Tis dust to dust beneath the sod,
     But there, up there, 'tis heart to heart.


  1. Thank you for sharing all these personal touches. It's great to 'hear' the music as I read.

    (I'm rereading GWTW right now.)


  2. Hey, Corra. Glad you enjoyed the post. I couldn't find any version with lyrics on youtube that wasn't either modernized or slightly comical, but the melody itself is nice, especially if you imagine it playing in that scene from the book. I don't know how Margaret Mitchell did it, but it's like she captured its very essence in those paragraphs.

  3. Yes - I agree. She was a genius, no doubt. Perhaps it was even sung to her, and the song helped sprout the story. :-)

    (Look at Mitchell alongside Leigh in your banner. They look related.) ;)

  4. Oh, but if you think they look alike in that picture, check out this one . I still have a hard time believing that it's really MM, though that's what they say on the site. Perhaps it is a shot of Vivien Leigh after all?

  5. That picture of MM is still crazy to me. It's shocking how much she looks like Vivien Leigh. I wonder when and why it was taken?

  6. @Bugsie: Yes, that is a photo of Vivien Leigh that was mistakenly captioned "Margaret Mitchell."

  7. I knew someone with a knowledge of Vivien Leigh and the ability to tell faces apart (that I completely lack) would come through in the end! Thank you, Cheryl!

  8. @Bugsie: Yes, that is a photo of Vivien Leigh that was mistakenly captioned "Margaret Mitchell."


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