The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #105070   Message #2159734
Posted By: George Papavgeris
29-Sep-07 - 12:01 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Lady Vangeline, Greek folksong
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Lady Vangeline, Greek folksong
Of course they are not traditional, how could they be, being written in English and all... Neither are they a translation. The "thou"s and "dost"s have no Greek equivalent, and are used here to give a romanticised impression of oldness. Yet they are based on the original:

The actual traditional song is called "Kyra-Vaggelio", which means "Mrs Vangeline", as you would refer to a neighbour (as opposed to "lady" with its connotations of grandeur, "lovely queen" and all that). The tune of the mp3 above is the same as the original. Eleanor Graham Vance took a reference to lemon trees, cypresses and rain, from the original song's third verse, and based the whole set of English lyrics on that, adding enough to turn it into some sort of semi-pagan hymn.

The original lyrics simply talk about an admired, kindly and "much-praised" woman (this last reference usually means "good looking") who seems to have been killed falling down a crevasse. The original lyrics then have Kyra-Vaggelio enter a garden full of trees, as a sort of paradise in afterlife (a characteristic ruse in traditional Greek songs about loved ones who have died, as a way of softening the blow).

The original Greek song is at least a couple of hundred years old, I believe (my guess is, anything between 1600 and 1800). If so, then there is very likely an interesting story behind it, but that has been lost in the mists of time. Reading between the lines, with the benefit of other stories I know about similar songs, I could make the following supposition:

Vaggelio was a reasonably young and certainly good looking married woman, admired by others, who was accosted by a stranger while drawing water at the village well (the song has the repeated line "give me some water", which was a typical chat-up line back then, when the time of drawing water was one of the few occasions a married woman would be seen on her own outside the house). She should have ignored the stranger and not spoken to him or acknowledged him, but being young and inexperienced - or flattered - she did give some water to the stranger. This would have been a great offence to her husband. Accusations followed, and in shame she threw herself down a crevasse. Saddened by the loss of such a "praised and admired" woman, anon takes over and concocts the story about ending up in a garden watering the trees.

I repeat that the above is only a supposition on my part, based on the knowledge of the customs and how such songs came about those days. "Kyra-Vaggelio" is certainly well known in Greece; no, that's an understatement, babies are danced on knees to that, youngsters learn to dance trad dances to that, every Greek knows it. Just go to any Greek and say "ena nero, Kyra-Vaggelio" (the first line of the song meaning "give me some water"), and they will answer with "ena nero, kryo nero" (the second line - "water, cool water") and then ask you how YOU knew about it!

Traditional Greek songs were rarely (almost never) about royalty, lords and ladies, for the simple reason that there were none about. Remember that between the 15th and 19th centuries Greece was simply part of the Ottoman empire and most Greeks were peasants, bar a few "scribes" and courtiers in the entourage of the local rulers such as Ali Pasha of Ioannina (I mention him because there are a few songs from that era referring to people other than normal peasants). Invariably then the old songs refer to ordinary people, or (later, when the War of Independence had begun) to famed fighters and brigands.

Which is why the English lyrics grate a little with me; all this grandeur and fake "olde worlde" language goes against the grain. But I am even more grateful that such an old song has travelled outside my country's borders and is enjoyed by others.

There - that's my thesis, can I have the PhD?
The things we do at 4 in the morning....