Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending

Behold The Joyful
Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band
The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
Wee Tam & The Big Huge
Changing Horses
I Looked Up
Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending
Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air


Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending 1970

  1. Come With Me
  2. All Writ Down
  3. Veshengro
  4. See All The People
  5. Waiting For You
  6. The Song has No Ending

by Robin Williamson

Moon of the berries is waning to clay
Bavol the wind leap on the whale's way
Sing for Veshengro, oak ash and may
I will not flash the day glance on the strong
king's shield
Nor yet the moon glance on the frightened man
Bring her sweet peace ere she rests on the
breast of God
With the nutrnegs and oak-apples of her rosary
That counts the praying sand
Who cradles earth and water in the hollow of her hand

I was a wasp on a nettled hill
Ten thousand brothers in a nest of fungus paper
And every sopping apple held its cider sweet for my thin tongue

I was a swineherd at the court of Fionn
I wore the coat of patches with Jalal beneath the stars
Sang at the black court of Ain
I baked sweet pastries for the Queen of Spain
I hid my alchemy beneath the stone of lies
Burned at the post my boiling brain
Made craters of my eyes

The mystery of history it is not revealed
We hear not clear but only with hope and fear
And the pomp of crime, and the pride of the time

I was a monk repelled by a woman's smell
I sailed in Darwin's ship, a mouse that gnawed the grain
Trapped by the cook on one dark day
I have spoken with the Thames in much sweeter times
And with the Medway where she rolls her waves

beGLAD An ISB Compendium

Band of angels

What is the job poetry is supposed to do? This may be a definition shaped by unfashionably archaic standards, but I think it's meant to do at least four things.

It should take us into the realm of myth - that is, of the stories and symbols that lie so deep you can't work out who are the authors of them, the stories that give points of reference for plotting your way in the inner and outer world. It's meant to celebrate; to clothe ordinary experience with extraordinary words so that we see the radiance in the ordinary, whether it's in landscape or in love or whatever. It's meant to satirise - to give us a sideways glance on familiar ways of talking or of behaving or exercising power, so that we're not bewitched by what looks obvious and wants us to think it's obvious. It's meant to lament, to give us ways of looking at our losses and our failures that save us from despair and apathy.

If you listen to the Incredible String Band's songs, you realise rapidly that they correspond with astonishing completeness to the requirements of poetry. Plenty of songs of that period managed the celebration or the lament, few could do the myth or the satire. Perhaps for a lot of us growing up in the late-60s and early 70s, there was a gap in the heart where this very traditional bardic, even shamanic, sense of poetry was looking for expression; and the ISB did just that. Forget the cliches about psychedelic and hallucinogenic vagueness: this was work of extraordinary emotional clarity and metaphorical rigour - an unusual combination. Lyrics stick after decades, "Every cell in my body has it all writ down"; "You know all the words and you sung all the notes, but you never quite learned the song"; "The caves where sleep the stars by day".

And the literacy you might have needed to pick up all the allusions was and is intimidating - Sufism, Celtic myth, Biblical and Gnostic symbols. Combine this with a versatility in musical idiom worthy of Lennon and McCartney at their best, and you have a rare phenomenon: the contrapuntal intricacies of much of Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending, the Caribbean jog of the Hedgehog Song, the sly parodies of Bob Dylan in more than one piece.

For those of us who fell in love with the ISB, there was a feeling of breathing the air of a very expansive imagination indeed. It was all right to be enchanted - but not bewitched (see above) by colossal and antique symbols; all right at the same time to be thinking about the experiences of "ordinary" first loves and first betrayals; and all right to find the earnest nonsense of real hallucinogenic maunderings funny. There was no one quite like them; we liked to think it was a very grown-up taste, but that makes it sound too serious.

If I go back to the start, I'd have to say again that it was simply a discovery of poetry; and as such - risking the embarrassment that so regularly goes with my particular vocation - I'd also have to say that it was a discovery of the holy; not the solemn, not the saintly, but the holy, which makes you silent and sometimes makes you laugh and which, above all, makes the landscape different once and for all.
Rowan Williams, from the introduction to beGLAD An Incredible String Band Compendium

The Guardian 25 September 2003

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