Let me confess, this song was directly inspired by Cordelia’s Dad’s The Frozen Girl; I just loved the long, story-telling ballad, so reminiscent of the Swedish Skillingtryck (things that cost a shilling to print/buy—a broadsheet ballad) which my dad loved and which I used to sing as a child, all sad, all about winter and death and alcoholic fathers letting their daughters freeze to death (or starve to death) while they drank themselves to a stupor in the local ale house. Very cheery stuff.

So, I tried my hand at this particular genre, and since I rarely manage to write any songs under seven minutes long, now that I was to write a long one, well, it turned out to be at least twice that long.

It’s almost like a short story set to music; more a telling than a song.

The Words:

Stephen was born
on the First of July
rosy of cheek
and a brightness of eye
all heart and lung
and a breath and a cry
glad to arrive
maybe sad
to have parted

Ten little fingers
and ten little toes
two eyes and ears
and a delicate nose
though with ten brothers
and sisters and those
soon on the way
he was erelong

Being the youngest
not counting the twins
meant threadbares
and hand-me-downs
patches and pins
asking for little
he cowers and grins
just for a smile
or a pat
on his shoulder

Last to a supper
of gristle and crumb
leaving a hunger
and cold that benumb
leaving his heart
and his soul to succumb
into the world
of his dreams
and his demons

Sensing a light
within story and song
gathering words
where those meanings belong
scavenging books
he would read before long
learning to fly
above paper
and letters

Caught by his father
asleep on the page
startled and frightened
he woke to his rage
told by the fist
boys don't read at your age
told by the cane
you're no better
than others

Still, by the light
of a well-hidden flame
Stephen would travel
the worlds he became
seeing no crime
in his lettery game
tracing its ink
and its papery

High over mountains
and oceans he flew
deep within jungles
and deserts he grew
racing by night
for the kingdom he knew
spreading the wings
of his heart
and its hunger

One tiny pencil
an inch maybe two
that and some yellowy
paper would do
home to the words
where his dream
would shine through
home to the song
of his soul
and its rising

Sam was his brother
and older by four
Sam was a monger
in secrets and more
he brought the father
one night to the door
leading to: See,
what a crime
I’ve uncovered

Damn, Stephen, damn you
you'll come to no good
Damn you, I'll make you
behave like you should
father was shaking
with rage where he stood
breaking his pencils
then breaking
his fingers

Writhing he moaned
in his fingery pain
black, blue and bleeding
they won't write again
pleading for help
though he whispered in vain
no one would come to
the aid of his

Beggar boy beggar boy
lumps for his hands
Stephen now cowers
and grins where he stands
cap on the ground
for the coin as it lands
ringing the news
he may yet have
his supper

Beggar man beggar man
lumps for his hands
Stephen still cowers
and grins where he stands
cap on the ground
for a coin as it lands
telling anew
he may yet have
his supper

Beggar man dreamer
grown into a tree
roots in the earth
where his feet used to be
willowy branches
forgiving and free
widen the sky
of his heart
and its soaring

Stephen still travels
his kingdom of dream
of sea shore and valley
of forest and stream
closing his eyes
he can sense every gleam
to nurture them all
into memorized

Heartbeat by heartbeat
he adds to his song
glimmer by glimmer
he guides it along
rising by rising
it will before long
open the gate
he has hungered
and prayed for

Stephen would die
on a cold winter's day
all knots and bark
on his bed where he lay
no one to hold him
or beg him to stay
no one to see
he was glad
to have parted

Ulf Wolf
Summer 1997/Spring 2015
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