Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 14: Siúil A Rún

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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Siúil A Rún … ‘Go, My Love’ …

Siúil A Rún (pron. “shool aroon”) a.k.a. Shule Agra (Súil a Grá) a.k.a. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier, et al., is one of those songs that has travelled the world, being adapted, many times, in the process to local language and circumstance. 

mac.gifIt started as a macaronic (lyrics use more than one language) Irish/English song, and the macaronic element has persisted – although, sometimes, mangled to the point of absurdity, e.g. a Missouri version has the chorus as a meaningless

 

q.gif“Shale, shale, shale-a mac-a-me,
Shule-a mac-a-rac-stack Sally Bobby cue
Shule-a mac-a-rac-stack, Sally Bobby Lee
Come bibble un-a-boose, said Lora.”

 

In this post, I’ll be dealing with a version of the traditional Irish song that started it all.

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In the beginning … geese.gif

Some claim that the song stems from the time of the Wild Geese – the Irish Jacobites who fled Ireland after their defeat at the hands of William of Orange. If such a song existed, it would almost certainly have been entirely in Irish Gaelic – but no such song now exists.

If it were that old, the version now extant would have been an English translation/re-writing that preserved only the Irish chorus – a fairly common occurrence.

On the other hand, it may have been that the song was composed in the 1800s using older songs as a model.

In the present day, the narrative of the song is that of a young woman who is prepared to sell all she has to equip her lover as a soldier, leave her parents, and follow him to war. Unhappily for the lass, he departs for France without her, and she knows nothing of his fate, and prays for his safety.

I’ve chosen for analysis the 1976 version by Clannad, from their album Dúlamán.

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Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif

Siúil A Rún

Trad. arr Clannad 1976

siuil-a-run.jpg

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Rhythm and rhyme to keep the time  … metro.gif

The verses contain 4 stresses/line.  Ll 1-3 of each verse are in iambic tetrametre (x dah-DUM) with occasional substitutions of an anapest (dah-dah-DUM) for a iamb, e.g.

  • ”Tis there | I’ll sit | and cry | my fill”
  • Un-til eve– |-ry tear | would turn | a mill

The hookline is divided over anapest2trochee (DUM-dah),and a single accentuated syllable. It manages this by splitting single syllables into two.

“Is go dté | mo | mhu-ir– |ni-inslán

The hookline, in every case, is deliberately slowed.

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The Gaelic chorus has single  accentuated syllables plus  1iamb in L1

  • Siúil,  | Siúil, | Siúil, | a Rún

Ll 2have 2trochee1anapest, and 1iamb

  • Siúil go | soch-air | a-gus siúil | go ciúin
  • Siúil go | dor-as | a-gus éal– | – aigh liom

And the last line is the same hookline as in the verse.

The trochees, by accentuating the first syllables, give an added drive to the chorus. This makes a very strong contrast with the verses, and this is further accentuated by the slowing of the hookline.

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The end-rhyme pattern, for both verse and chorus, is as follows:

  • A  A  A  B
  • “hill/fill/mill/slán”
  • “rún/ciúin/liom (half-rhyme)/slán”

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The keys to the rún … keys.gif

Listening closely, you can hear that the tonic of the song seems to be switching between A and C. In fact, it does switch back and forth from A Aeolian (a.k.a. A natural minor) to C major.

  • A Aeolian – A  B  C  D  E  F  G – main chords: AmDm, and Em
  • C major – C  D  E  F  G  A  B – main chords: CF, and G

This gives it an interesting lilt, given extra push by an underlying jig-like beat that permeates all the song with the exception of the slowed-down hookline.

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What do I think? … win.gif

The sharp rhythmic contrast between verse and chorus, and the heavy, slowed emphasis on the hookline, make this a most unusual song. One might also think that the varied metre might be off-putting. 

However, the catchy jig-like underlying beat, and the sweet melody, with its switching between C major and A Aeolian, give a very attractive lilt to Siúil A Rún which helps bind all these disparate elements together.

The “proof of the pudding” is really in the mass adoption of the song, and its many variants, all over the English-speaking (and Irish-speaking!) world. Whether it’s called Siúil A Rún, Shule Agra, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier, or Buttermilk Hill, it’s definitely here to stay!

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Next time, we’ll look at one by a more modern, traditional writer!

(Maybe not this guy!)

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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