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10.05-WIDOW'S WALK (Van Dyke Parks)

Van Dyke Parks

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Widows walk ado walk on
As in years of yore.
The thought of you divided thus
It just may be due to discuss
In cold turkey.

Mourning in the willows,
Or was it the wind?
You recollect we all suspect
The mortal door will open the sore mind
The widows walk

        And wail among the willows.
        Widows walk ado walk on.

Widows face the future.
Factories face the poor.
The fact remains the peril strains
The mind a bit to have done and quit
With it widows walk

        [Chorus]

[Break]

                I'm guessing this is called civil
                Regrettably strife.
                So lessen your appalled
                Pall mall and middle life.
                Long last a hymn to Him
                To help you on your way.

                Contented is the boat
                By chance how forlorn the shore.
                I've meant to take the chance
                To turn you 'bout the floor.
                So trim the prim
                The lame have rose to say.

        Widows walk and wail among the willows.
        Widows walk and do-se-do the willows.
        Widows walk ado walk on.


Van Dyke Parks is recorded as saying that Widow’s Walk was written to cheer up his aunt, who had recently lost her husband, by writing what he called “cartoon music” (Song Cycle by Richard Henderson, p. 75). The song features harpsichord, horns, harp, bass marimba, timpani, mandolin, and an accordion this time instead of the usual harmonica, all playing in a shuffle of beats that recreate the image of a woman dragging along unsteadily in a waltz with her memory in gothic Edward Gorey fashion. The short break features seagulls and the clang of a maritime bell to suggest an architectural widow’s walk overlooking the sea. [Donovan had released a lovely Widow with a Shawl (A Portrait) in his 1967 album For Little Ones, much in the same spirit, but without the use of irony.]

Archaic language fosters a picturesque image of grief (ado; do-se-do; yore; forlorn), as if to conjure for the mourning widow the absurdity of what she looks like. It appears to be an absurdity that, rather than being silly, partakes of Gorey’s own observation that “There’s probably no happy nonsense” [Stephen Schiff, Edward Gorey and the Tao of Nonsense, New Yorker magazine (Nov. 9, 1992), p. 89.] The widow dances with the skeletal willows, but ultimately must “walk on” into the future. The song seems to ask if one’s private grief upon losing a loved one is more than the suffering of an entire class of people living in poverty through an implied illogical parallel: widows face the future / factories face the poor. I don’t imagine that the song was very consoling to the widow, but it does encourage her, ironically, through a sort of compassionate mockery, to get on with her life.

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