Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Woodcutters Song

The first cold wind arrived yesterday and the condensation begins to gather on the windows and reminds us that winter is on its way so fuel for keeping warm must be organised and other stocks need to be checked. Then there was a new moon on Monday so hopefully this will be a better month to get things done.

There are a number of poems composed as aids to remember the various characters and qualities of wood for burning. There is The Firewood Poem written by Celia Congreve believed to be first published in The Times newspaper on March 2nd 1930.

Then there is The Woodcutters Song. It has been claimed that it was called Logs To Burn and written by Honor Goodhart during the 1926 General Strike in England and published in Punch in 1926. It has been adapted and set to music by various people over the years, my own favourite being the version by Robin Williamson on his 1978 album A Glint in the Kindling. It is likely that these poems were known in some earlier form in the oral tradition, seeing as it has always been useful information.

Robin Williamsons sung version:

Oak logs will warm you well
That are old and dry
Logs of pine will sweetly smell
But the sparks will fly
Birchs long will burn too fast
Chestnut scarce at all sir
Hawthorn logs are good to last
That are cut well in the fall sir

Why surely you will find
There´s no compare with the hard wood logs
That´s cut in winter time

Holly logs will burn like wax
You could burn them green
Elm logs burn like smouldering flax
With no flames to be seen
Beech logs for winter time
Yew logs as well sir
Green elder logs it is a crime
For any man to sell sir

Why surely you will find
There´s no compare with the hard wood logs
That´s cut in winter time

Pear logs and apple logs
They will scent your room
and cherry logs across the dogs
They smell like flowers of broom
But ash logs smooth and grey
Buy them green or old, sir
and buy up all that comes your way
They´re worth their weight in gold sir

The Firewood Poem

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut's only good they say,
If for logs 'tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E'en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter's cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by.


nobody said...

Gorgeous John, gorgeous. The first two are spookily rainforest-like mate. It's the ferns, I'm thinking. And then there's that circular path - spooky!

As for the poem, it's brilliant. And I'm thinking you should keep an eye out for ash. Mind you, it's completely useless to me you know. We don't got none of 'em. In the Australian bush I'm perpetually at a loss as to what will burn and what won't. The best I can figure - whatever is in great profusion will be crap, ha ha.

queenofthenile said...

I'd like to listen to the Woodcutter's Song. I'll google Robin Williamson & see what comes up. I love the idea of the cold wind outside and people snug and warm inside, poking a fragrant fire watching the flames dance, making faces and shadows. I like that kind of weather.

Thanks you for the lovely images.

john said...

Thansk nobody. It does get quite rainforestlike in Devon. First of all we have plenty of rain! and then we have the ferns and lots and lots of moss.

Ash is the best wood we have for burning here. I wonder if other countries have similar poems relating the varieties of their own native trees?

I was watching Crouching Tiger the other night and was captivated by the bamboo forests. There is a Chinese Wooodcutters Song but I think it might be part of an opera.

john said...

Thanks queenofthenile, There is a video of the song on Youtube but it has someone else singing in front of it, an odd choice for karaoke. A Glint in the Kindling was one of his finest albums, if you can stand his voice, it isn't everyones cup of tea and can scare cats sometimes.

Also on Youtube is RW himself singing my favourite version of The Parting Glass which is a brilliant song. The Cold Days of February was another good'n, a great anti war song that even briefly mentions bankers.

He recorded an album of winter songs which was a bit of a letdown I thought.

I remember someone once saying that english reggae was played faster than jamaican reggae because we had to play fast to keep warm.

john said...

Thansk? not a very good start.

Penny said...

hello John!
how are ya?
The first thing I thought of when I saw all the pics, was little people.
Elves, Hobbits, whatever.
Little people inhabiting green spaces.
Maybe there is a rainbow there somewhere?
And a pot of gold, at then end of it?
I wanted to tell you that before I read the poem/song.

nina said...

Wonderful pictures and songs of truth. We live the songs, so I know, pine starts the fire and oak keeps it long and makes the heat. The pine is valuable as a kindling. I would like to memorize the words and burst out singing while the old man organizes his stacks.
Thanks for this post!

john said...

Cheers Penny

All going well here thanks, unusuakky mild weather but lots of autumn trees doing their colourful business.

I haven't seen any elves or hobbits yet, I think they're hiding behind trees when they hear me coming. We do have little folk in the woods, grey fur coats and tails. Hang on a minute, I think they may be squirrels. They sit up in the trees and throw nuts at me.

Still looking for the pot of gold though it's as elusive as ever, but I walk in the woods and feel rich for the privilage .

john said...

Cheers Nina, your're very welcome.

You have the fire thing well sorted there by the sound of it and yes it is a nice song for singing and also has lots of good knowledge too. Pine is certainly the wood to get the fire going.

Songs and poems are great ways to remember such stuff and lots of wisdom can be tucked away in there such as there is in the faery stories too.

As these stories get passed along so the wisdom goes with them, however disguised it is sometimes.

Cheers for now.

nobody said...

Hey John, you might be the fellow to answer this question. Do you remember this poster by a fellow name of Jimmy Cauty? I had it on my wall when I was a teenager and know it backwards.

But never mind that, I'm trying to chase down another poster by what I thought was the same artist but now I'm not so sure. It was of a Tintern Abbey-esque ruin and featured elves and aliens etc. Remarkably similar style. Does that ring a bell for you? I searched and searched and in amongst quite a busy career it seems our J Cauty only made one poster and it was the LOTR one. Any ideas?

john said...

Cheers nobody

I remember the posters being sold here by the company Big O. We had a poster sized catalogue of all their posters and yes I remember there being more by Jimmy Cauty.

Apart from the LOTR one he also did one of The Hobbit and then there was three others of Avebury and Stonehenge and Glastonbury. I am certain that they were by Jimmy Cauty and surprised that they are not on the internet anywhere.

The one you might be thinking of is the Glastonbury one which may have had smaller pictures on it of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.

Hope this is of some help.

john said...

Two more that I had forgotten about were "The King of Elflands Daughter" and "The Gift"

The King of Elflands Daughter was a novel by Lord Dunsany published in 1924. The illustration of Cautys was painted for a record cover in 1977 the record being produced by Bob Johnson and Pete Knight.

nobody said...

Good God John, you're encyclopaedic! The Gift, mate. I'm almost certain that's it.


Just back from another exhaustive search. This is the closest I got. God! How much time did we spend hanging around in poster shops? Far too much obviously. And none of it's online. Unbelievable...

Anyway thanks mate. I'm super impressed at your ability to remember and super frustrated at the fact that it doesn't exist on the net - yay, and yah boo sux.

john said...

It is odd that hardly any of it is online, nearly everything else is and of course there must have been thousands printed.

Up until about six years ago I would have had some small images of all of these in an Athena poster catalogue from about 1980 but it was one of those things that when I got thrown out of me house I thought "Why am I still carrying this around?" and off it went to the charity shop.

I better get on, walk to Budleigh photos to get done. Cheers for now.