Friday, 13 December 2019

Friday 13th December - A Coronach in the Backwoods

Oh Lordy, it's Friday 13th, which does not bode well but might be just what we need for Sobvent.  Nothing like being unlucky and miserable, which leads me to today's offering...

A Coronach in the Backwoods (1859) George W Simson
Well, here we all are then.  For starters, a coronach is a vocal lament at a funeral or wake, or in this case the jolly wail of bagpipes.  It is traditional in the Highlands of Scotland and Ireland, and as is the way in the 19th century, Victorians were both absolutely fascinated with it but also tried to stamp it out.  What a contrary bunch the Victorians were.  That reminds me of the Victorians with all sorts of traditional practices such as country dances, and their attempts to catalogue and record such things, but melodies for the songs had been written down from the 18th century, because when burying someone you don't want to be searching around for a suitable tune.

I completely missed the body in this picture - I thought it was just an image of a man and woman at a graveside.  I then noticed how small the hole was - well, I thought, that's not a very large grave, you could barely fit a baby in there... oh, rats.  The couple have had to dig the little grave, the shovel is behind the man, and now the parents are responsible for burying their child.  I'm not sure if Simson is making a point about the rather 'uncivilized' nature of the people of Ireland and Scotland, that they are uncultured but they are closer to nature and the circle of life, which is grim and magnificently patronising.  Maybe he was just drawing attention to the sort of customs that the English were trying to put a stop to because they didn't understand them.

The jug and letter in front of the woman give me pause for thought.  Why bring a letter and a jug?  Also, in Highlands and Ireland burial tradition (apparently, not sure how reliable this is) a dog or cat at a funeral is really bad luck and beside our piper we have a jolly boarder collie.  So my conclusion is this - the 'grave' is actually symbolic, for someone who has been lost at sea or something, and the woman and her perfectly healthy baby will be burying the letter (which has the details of the death) and the jug (for some reason).  However, the presence of the cursed collie (the Collie of Doom, as I like to think) means they will all be dead before the year is out.

Whatever the truth behind this painting, it's not a jolly scene at all, and suitably unlucky (especially that sheepdog) for Friday 13th...

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I rather think that these are the child's parents, they're poor and living somewhere v isolated so no-one can make it to the wake or burial, and the jug contains something to toast the little soul as it makes its journey.


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