Posted on January 24th, 2016 | by Leslie

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I Won’t Fail

Notes on Track 11

Surprisingly to me, the story upon which this song is based is the only one from Yolen’s collection on this album.  Volume One had five.  (It is my favourite collection of folktales, after all.)  I’ve had “The Spirit-Wife” marked to write about since I began the Wanderlings project, but this song gave me a hard time when I finally pulled up a chair.

Yolen’s notes say:
“This Zuni tale is but one of the American Indian Orpheus stories.  There are forty versions, and according to Stith Thompson, in only three of them does the wife successfully return.  There is a study by A. H. Gayton, “The Orpheus Myth in North America,” in the Journal of American Folklore 48 (1935).”

To close the story the narrator states it’s best for everyone that the Spirit-Wife did not return from the dead because then death would be undone and the earth would get too crowded.  The husband ultimately goes mad with longing, while the wife returns to the lake where the dead rest.  A heartbreakingly for-the-best conclusion.

Source

  • “The Spirit-Wife” in Favorite Folktales from Around the World ed. by Jane Yolen.  (Random House: New York, 1986) p 423-427;
  • Originally from Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, American Indian Myths and Legends (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 447-51.

Lyrics

[HIM]
I lost her too early
My true love, you shone so brightly
Without her I’m broken
I swallow all these words unspoken

I will make a vow right now
By the morning light
That I will bring her back to me
Save her from the night

Red feather dancing on the air
Do not leave me, lead me there
Spirit-wife I cannot see
Do not set me free
I will follow every trail
Suffer through what they entail
‘Til you rest with your head upon my breast
I won’t fail

This journey is hard, love
I’m struggling and you just float above
You’ve travelled beyond this life
The lake where the dead rest lies between us, wife

I will make a vow right now
Spirits, hear my call
I have come so far and yet
I will give my all

Owl feathers dancing on the air
Do not leave me, lead me there
Bring my lover back to me
Come and set her free
I will follow any trail
Suffer through what it entails
‘Til she rests with her head upon my breast
I won’t fail

[HER]
My husband, you found me
Our village I cannot wait to see
Remember your promise
Be patient and we’ll both get through this

[HIM]
I will make a vow right now
Not to touch your skin
Until we see our home again
I will not give in
But the sunlight in your hair, my love
The warmth of your embrace
What’s the harm – we’re almost home
If I should touch your face?

[HER]
What have you done?
We’d almost won

Like a feather floating on the air
I must leave you standing there
Spirit-wife again I’ll be
For you have set me free
You may follow every trail
Suffer through what they entail
But you nevermore will rest
With my head upon your breast
You have failed

[HIM]
I won’t fail

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