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Discography > The Incantations Lyrics


It is probably fair to say that Incantations used words more heavily than any of Mike's previous albums. Most of the lyrics used on Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn were seemingly nothing more than nonsense lyrics, courtesy of Clodagh Simmonds, though a few Irish Gaelic words found their way onto Ommadawn, and On Horseback of course had lyrics in English.
Incantations, however, drew on two works of English literature for its lyrics, and also incorporated some lyrics in Latin. On looking at them more closely, it emerges that, despite being from different sources, and seemingly being about different things, the lyrics share common themes.

Before going on, I'd like to thank Mary-Carol Lindbloom for her advice, support and enthusiasm during the making of this page. It was always nice to know that it wasn't a totally private obsession of mine...

I'll start with the lyrics heard first in Part 1, then move on to those from Part 2 and Part 4.

Part 1

In Part 1 at 9:41 and Part 2 at 7:44 we hear the words:

Diana, Luna, Lucina

Diana was known by the Romans as the virgin goddess of the moon, as well as of fertility. Women worshipped her as Diana was said to give an easy birth for their children (hence Diana's position as patroness of childbirth). Diana's being equated with the Greek goddess Artemis led to her becoming goddess of hunting, as well as nature and animals.
Luna was also a Roman goddess of the moon, though she later became combined with Diana. The Latin word Luna means 'moon'.
Lucina was the name given in Roman mythology to Juno (queen of the Olympian gods) as goddess of childbirth. The name comes from the same root as lucinus: bringing to the light.

The word Lumen ('light') concludes the three-word chant (appears at 14:12, 14:29 and finally at 15:03 in the 2011 version).

Part 2

The next set of lyrics we hear are in Part 2 at 11:40. These are from American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha". The poem is written in 22 parts, plus an introduction. I'll feature here just the sections that are used in Incantations. If you would like to read the whole work, you can read it online at Poets' Corner.
The first part that Mike uses is from the final part, 'Hiawatha's departure' (parts where this text differs from Mike's are highlighted in bold, see below for notes):

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him, through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing In the sunshine.
          Bright above him shone the heavens,
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
Sparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
          From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
As the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha.
          Toward the sun his hands were lifted,
Both the palms spread out against it,
And between the parted fingers
Fell the sunshine on his features,
Flecked with light his naked shoulders,
As it falls and flecks an oak-tree
Through the rifted leaves and branches.
          O'er the water floating, flying,
Something in the hazy distance,
Something in the mists of morning,
Loomed and lifted from the water,
Now seemed floating, now seemed flying,
Coming nearer, nearer, nearer.
          Was it Shingebis the diver?
Or the pelican, the Shada?
Or the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah?
Or the white goose, Waw-be-wawa,
With the water dripping, flashing,
From its glossy neck and feathers?
          It was neither goose nor diver,
Neither pelican nor heron,
O'er the water floating, flying,
Through the shining mist of morning,
But a birch canoe with paddles,
Rising, sinking on the water,
Dripping, flashing in the sunshine;
And within it came a people

Shore - A small difference. It has become 'shores'
Pleasant - Replaced with 'early'
Makers - Mike omits the s
Triumph - Mike has 'gladness' here
Against - Mike's version has 'toward' instead
Wawa - It seems to be 'wana' being sung here
Mist - Here, an s is added, making it 'mists'

The next section used, at 16:54 of Part 2 is from part XII of the poem, titled 'The Son of the Evening Star':

Can it be the sun descending
O'er the level plain of water?
Or the Red Swan floating, flying,
Wounded by the magic arrow,
Staining all the waves with crimson,
With the crimson of its life-blood,
Filling all the air with splendor,
With the splendor of its plumage?
          Yes; it is the sun descending,
Sinking down into the water;
All the sky is stained with purple,
All the water flushed with crimson!
No; it is the Red Swan floating,
Diving down beneath the water;
To the sky its wings are lifted,
With its blood the waves are reddened!
          Over it the Star of Evening
Melts and trembles through the purple,
Hangs suspended in the twilight.
No; it is a bead of wampum
On the robes of the Great Spirit
As he passes through the twilight,

Walks in silence through the heavens.

Can - Has been replaced in Incantations with the word 'could'
With the splendor of its plumage - here, Mike has 'filling all the air with plumage'
The three lines before the end (starting with 'No; it is a bead of wampum') have been removed completely.

It would seem, to look at these sections, that there was nothing in common here with the Latin lyrics first found in Part 1. However, if we look at Part III of the poem, 'Hiawatha's Childhood' (which you can find on the Poets' Corner page if you want to read the whole thing), we find the line "From the full moon fell Nokomis". She is also later referred to as 'Daughter of the moon'.Nokomis is Hiawatha's grandmother, and the one who cares for Hiawatha after his mother dies. In that, we have the connection with the moon - 'luna' from the first set of lyrics.

The canoe that's described in 'Hiawatha's departure' is carrying a group of visitors, led by "The Black-Robe chief, the Prophet, / He the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face". This is a Christian priest, come to preach Christianity to Hiawatha and his people. After doing this, the visitors fall asleep. While they sleep, Hiawatha asks Nokomis to take care of them, and then departs westward, into the setting sun.

Gitche Gumee is Lake Superior (the 'Big-Sea water'), biggest of the Great Lakes found on the borders of Canada and the northern United States. Several Chippewa/Ojibwe tribes live around its edges.

The image of the Red Swan comes from a tale from the Chippewa (Ojibwe/Anishinaabe) nation of native Americans, which tells of a red swan who is one day spotted by a young native man when out hunting. He is struck by its magnificence, as it fills all the air around him with a red glow. He shoots all his arrows at the swan, determined to catch it, but misses each time. He returns later with three magic arrows and with the third he hits the swan. To his surprise the swan doesn't fall over, dead, but instead flies off towards the setting sun (and so he is led off on a great adventure).
The imagery of the swan 'filling all the air with splendour' ties in, as does it being 'wounded by the magic arrow' (though it seems in the story that the swan is not really wounded by the arrow through its neck, or at least not affected by it). Longfellow seems to suggest that the swan is bleeding - "staining all the waves with crimson, with the crimson of its life-blood". The version of the tale I read certainly does not have the swan bleeding. This use of native traditional imagery, blended by Longfellow into his own imagery, is something that occurs throughout 'The Song of Hiawatha'.

There could be several reasons for the 'alterations' to the words. I saw another edition of 'the Song of Hiawatha' which had slight differences in it (though it was mostly the same as the version here...). It could be that these differences were all present in the edition that Mike used.
It may be that Maddy Prior sang from memory, or that Mike wrote the words out from memory, and the changes slipped in then, as she remembered a few words wrongly. I would have thought that Mike would have had a printed copy to hand to make sure she sang the right words, but maybe he didn't, or maybe he decided that the word being changed didn't matter.
It could also be that the words were altered deliberately (the three lines which have been removed right at the end will almost certainly have been taken out deliberately). There doesn't seem to really be a reason why the rest of the words should have been altered though, unless someone just happened to think it sounded better with the alterations. The words in the version here seem, to me, to fit just as well to the rhythm of Mike's melody as the words he has used (unlike with the alterations we will see made in part 4, where the structure has been altered to fit the structure of Mike's music).

Part 4

The lyrics found in Part 4 (starting at 15:03) come from the beginning of Act 5, Scene 1 of the play 'Cynthia's revels' (or 'The Fountain of Selfe-Love') written by Ben Jonson in 1599 (Performed 1600, published 1601). The section is often known as 'Hymn to Diana' (though also known as 'Ode to Cynthia', 'The Hymn of Hesperus' and 'Queen and Huntress' - I would imagine that, coming from a play, Jonson didn't title the 'poem' himself) and is sung by the character Hesperus. This version uses modernised English spellings. Anyone interested in reading the whole play, with original spellings, can find it online at the Public Domain Modern English Text Collection of the University of Michigan, though I must say that this version doesn't clearly identify characters, making it less than ideal.

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep:
        Hesperus entreats thy light,
        Goddess, excellently bright.

Earth, let not an envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia's shining orb was made
Heaven to clear when day did close:
        Bless us then with wishèd sight,
        Goddess, excellently bright.

Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal-shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever;
        Thou that mak'st a day of night,
        Goddess, excellently bright.

Mike made some alterations to the poem for its use in Incantations. I'll look at the poem in its original form, then detail Mike's alterations below.

The poem addresses the moon goddess Diana, or Cynthia (this name presumably coming from Cynthus, the hill in Delos which was the birth place of Diana and Apollo).
In literature of the time, Queen Elizabeth 1st (of England) was often addressed as Cynthia, as like the goddess, Elizabeth had a reputation for being a virgin. She also was seen to outshine all her court.
'Cynthia's Revels' was an attempt on Jonson's part to gain favour in Elizabeth's court. A key feature of the play is that there is to be a night of celebration in Cynthia's court, where a play will be performed. Not coincidentally, Elizabeth held regular nights of festivities at which such entertainment was provided; it was on one of these nights that Jonson hoped that 'Cynthia's Revels' would eventually be performed. We therefore find things in the play that aim to compliment Cynthia, and therefore Elizabeth as well. This 'Ode to Cynthia' is a particularly visible form of this flattery of the queen.
The play was indeed performed at Queen Elizabeth's court. It seems it wasn't a complete success however, partly because the play was a heavy satire on the exact type of people who were sat in the audience - that is, the royal courtiers. Jonson, however, later met with success in the court of Elizabeth's successor, King James.

It asks of the moon that, now the sun has gone down, she keeps the 'state' in the 'wonted manner'. The poem is asking her to keep the situation the same even though the sun has gone down; that is, keep it light (that is, to make a 'day of night'), by shining.

Hesperus is god of the evening star, or the planet Venus as we now know it to be (back then, the belief was that there was Eosphorus, the morning star and Hesperus the evening star - we now know that these are both in fact Venus, but as they appeared at different times, they were believed to be separate objects and so were given different names). Being one of the first 'stars' to appear, it is seen by Jonson that Hesperus 'entreats' the moon's light - it comes up first, then asks the moon to shine.

The second stanza (verse) asks the earth to "let not an envious shade dare itself to interpose". Shade in this case means shadow; it's asking the earth not to eclipse the moon, by allowing its shadow to get in the way, as Cynthia's shining orb (the moon) was made to 'clear' (in this case, brighten) the heavens when the day has finished. Cynthia is asked to "Bless us then with wishèd sight", in other words, to let us see this sight that we wish to see - her appearance (the sight of her being so wonderful that her appearance is a blessing).

The third stanza addresses Cynthia the huntress, as opposed to the other two stanzas which address Cynthia as moon goddess. It seems to refer to the legend of Diana and Actaeon where Diana, when tired from hunting, bathed in her sacred valley, in a small pool fed by a fountain, in a cave. Diana had given her bow and quiver (the implements of archery associated with Diana) and her javelin to one of her nymphs (therefore having laid them 'apart' - to one side). Actaeon stumbled across this cave while hunting for deer, and saw Diana naked in the pool. Diana was enraged, and wanted to reach for her arrows. She was unable to, so turned Actaeon into a stag (a hart) instead. He ran away, but was startled by the sight of his own reflection in a pool of water, and stopped. When he did so, his dogs caught up with him and, not recognising Actaeon, tore him apart.
Here, however, Jonson is making a request; for Cynthia to put down her bow and quiver, and stop hunting, allowing the 'flying hart' (escaping deer) 'space to breathe', and live at least for a little time without fear of attack. Whoever this is aimed at (whether Cynthia, Queen Elizabeth, or both), it seems that Jonson would rather have her making a 'day of night' than 'hunting' people (perhaps acting rashly in the process).

Mike's alterations make it read like this...

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in a silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep:

Earth, let not an envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia's shining orb was made
Heav'n to cheer when day did close:

Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal-shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever;

Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess, excellently bright.
Bless us then with wished sight,
Thou who makes a day of night...

All analysis material © Richard Carter 2001. All other material copyright of the respective owners.

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