Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The end of time

When I first read the lyrics to Ewan MacColl's "The First Time", I disliked them.

The first time ever I saw your face
I though the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon & stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark & the empty skies, my love
To the dark and empty skies.

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love
That was there at my command.

The first time ever I lay with you
And felt your heart beat over mine
I thought our joy would fill the earth
And last til the end of time, my love
And last til the end of time.

Knowing nothing of the story behind it, the words turned me off. "Sure, you thought your love would last forever, but of course it won't! Let alone sex. You probably got tired of her, if she didn't get tired of you first."

In college I discovered Peggy Seeger's album Songs of Love and Politics. Along with her own "I Want to Be an Engineer" and many other political songs, the most memorable love song is "The First Time", which Ewan wrote for her during a 1956 transatlantic phone call. They didn't get tired of each other - they were married for many decades. But she also sings the heartbreaking "Thoughts of Time", about being married to a much older man and living with the almost certain knowledge that Ewan would die before her.

These days I have marriage on the brain, and her story takes on more significance for me. The worst thing I can currently imagine is losing Jeff too early, though unless we both go in the same car wreck one of us has to die before the other. So this week when I found Peggy Seeger's most recent album Bring Me Home in the library, I was entranced by the last song. She describes the different people who have been home to her over the years - starting with her parents and brothers, then her life with Ewan, her life alone after his death. But the last verses are about her life with her new partner, Irene. I've never met any of these people, but I was happy all day after learning that! It felt like I had heard good news from a friend.

At Pendle Hill it's the end of term, students are leaving, and people are fond of quoting "The sorrow of your leaving lasts only a moment, because the joy of your being here lasts forever." I'm sure anyone who's lost a spouse will tell you the sorrow in fact lasts more than a moment. But at the same time, the world is a better place because Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl were in it. I hope at the end of our life together Jeff and I can know the same thing.

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