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Letter to Syracuse

14 Jun 02 - 01:21 PM (#730023)
Subject: Letter to Syracuse
From: GUEST,Ganinm

Hi Mudcatters out there,

Does anyone happen to know which war is being reffered to in that great song by Dave Cartwright and Bill Caddick entitled "Letter to Syracuse"? Could it possibly be Vietnam?

I´m afraid the explanation given in the Digitrad "It is not clear which war this song is about, but it really doesn't matter" is somewhat unsufficient for me and I´m not sure if the songwriters would agree with this opinion either.

Will appreciate any information on this.

14 Jun 02 - 04:09 PM (#730142)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: dorareever

World War II? I guess that it could possibly be any war.I guess that it's the way it was written.It's about any war.

14 Jun 02 - 08:09 PM (#730278)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: mack/misophist

This is only a guess but, from the context, I'd say it's a modern song about the Civil War. "Charging the guns" doesn't make much sense in any other context.

14 Jun 02 - 08:16 PM (#730283)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Amergin

I always thought it was civil war....

14 Jun 02 - 08:19 PM (#730287)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Amos

The date--1972--implies Vietnam, and it is perfectly possible that "charging the cannon" was simply a poetic turn of phrase borrowed by the author to make it seem like an older song than it was, like false antiquing on mass-produced furntiture.

Aside from the reference to charging the cannons (which could also apply to charging entrenched enemy positions in any modern war) the language sounds contrived and modern, so I would suggest it is not about any earlier war in particular but a general song stirred up by the mind of a 70's-era songwriter by the storms of bad news, political fury, loss and confusion surrounding the slaughters of Vietnam. I think the words are inaccdurately transcribed, as wlel -- "he'd only fight me gun" makes no sense in any context except the American Civil War, but the language is not well chosen to reflect the era.


15 Jun 02 - 07:58 AM (#730444)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

Niamh Parsons has included it on her latest CD - complete with a previously unrecorded verse.


15 Jun 02 - 01:31 PM (#730554)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse

Surely it's 'he'd only find me gone'. It rhymes that way.

15 Jun 02 - 02:20 PM (#730569)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Deda

The original, ancient Syracuse was the capital city of Sicily, and had been settled by Greek colonists, maybe from Corinth(?), and had then become allied with Carthage, Rome's enemy. There was an astonishing mathematician and inventor who lived there during the second (i.e. worst)Punic War, Archimedes (~287-211 BC). He figured the value of pi, as closely as could be done at the time. He also invented some incredible machinery which devastated the Roman fleet: He had pulleys and ropes at the city walls that hooked onto and then yanked the prows of the Roman ships up out of the water, and then released them and crashed them down on the rocks. The Romans came back with a reinforced fleet and took the city, and orders were given to take Archimedes alive. When a Roman soldier found him, he was working in his study and he yelled at the soldier to move because he was blocking the light. The soldier, not aware of who Archimedes was, ran him through with his sword. This is extreme thread creep, but an interesting story about a place named Syracuse.

15 Jun 02 - 07:58 PM (#730679)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Irish sergeant

I'll have to look up the song. If only because I am from Syracuse. Neil (Just another Salt City warrior poet drinking wine on a Saturday night)

16 Jun 02 - 03:42 AM (#730819)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Big Tim

Christy Moore's sleeve notes from "Prosperous" (1972)- "This was written by Dave Cartwright and Bill Caddick from Wolverhampton who play a lot of their material at their club in Halesowen each week". There is no reference to the song in Christy's book "One Voice", one of the few omissions of all the songs he has recorded. Sounds like a general anti-war song, but why Syracuse is a mystery to me!

10 Apr 08 - 05:08 AM (#2311870)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse - Possible corrections

I would suggest the following corrections (based on listening to Christy Moore's recording)

"While all around me boys who help me soul our season's crop"
should probably be "While all around me boys who help me SOW our season's crop"

"I told my brother not to join cause he'd only fight me gun"
should probabaly be

"I told my brother not to join cause he'd only FIND ME GONE"

10 Apr 08 - 05:20 AM (#2311874)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: GUEST,Silas

Why not email Bill, he's a really nice guy and he will reply. If I see him before I will ask him.

10 Apr 08 - 07:48 AM (#2311942)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Charley Noble

I suspect the reference to "Letter to Syracuse" has more to do with the ancient capital of Sicily and a classic correspondence than anything else, and probably one which complains about the unending wars of the period. Maybe it's a letter by philosopher Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. to 65 A.D.). But then Seneca was exiled to Corsica, not Sicily. Well, they're both islands. Maybe the songwriter got confused. If he only had access to Goggle Earth!

Charley Noble

10 Apr 08 - 09:22 AM (#2311991)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Les in Chorlton

I thought the Syracuse in question was in New York State?

12 Sep 15 - 05:42 PM (#3736995)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse

I think this is about a young Irish lad who was fighting for the CSA in the Civil War writing his family in Syracuse. I imagine his family had immigrated in the early 1860s after he had come (earlier) to some southern port and been recruited to fight for the CSA. Recruiters for both sides met the immigrant boats in their ports promising a bounty and automatic citizenship. Note the reference to continued retreat and the author's admonition to his brother not to join (from Syracuse) lest he face his (the author's) gun. The author lies to his family that he's alright so as to comfort them...a sad, melancholy Irish style ballad (written in 1972).

06 Dec 16 - 03:17 PM (#3824902)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: GUEST,guest

It's the American Civil war. Rural youth were heavily recruited. It's one of a hundred thousand family tragedies.

The imagined singer would have been in the 149th New York Infantry that was organized at Syracuse, N.Y. which mustered in September 18, 1862.

The Civil war was a horrific experience to the green recruits, who had never seen such sustained artillery and [some] Gatling gun firing. Explosive bullets were also used to terrible effect.

The "Letter to Syracuse" song perfectly expresses the soldier's cynicism and pessimism. He had "sowed last season's crop" along with his local friends, and the crop may never be harvested.

06 Dec 16 - 03:45 PM (#3824907)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse
From: Steve Shaw

I spent a week in the Sicilian Syracuse (Siracusa) in September. I'd always thought that the song was about that place until shortly before we went, only to find when I looked into it that it wasn't! If you ever go to Siracusa, stay in Ortigia, the little island connected to the main town by a road bridge. Ortigia is lovely but Siracusa is workaday bordering on rough, though the archeological site with both Roman and Greek amphitheatres is fabulous.

27 Jan 20 - 09:45 AM (#4030521)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse

Great song - trying to trace relatives of the writers as I want to record this - anybody have any contacts?

30 Jul 21 - 06:07 PM (#4114863)
Subject: RE: Letter to Syracuse

I have to disagree that the phrase ‘he’ll only fight me gun’ doesn’t make sense. It clearly means that if his brother joins up - the singer of the song would personally shoot him for doing so as he is trying with his banter and threats to keep his brother
out of the bloodshed.

I believe whilst having a universal application to just about any war with the ‘it will be all over by Christmas ‘ a common saying in both world wars one and two , that most likely it does have its roots in the Vietnam war where massive defeats ,losses and subsequent retreats were inflicted on US troops some of whom were Irish - American soldiers .