One of my favourite Irish songs is about the passing of time, (it’s very sad and maudlin as you would expect from an Irish song). It’s called ‘The Orchard’, it’s actually by a songwriter called Kevin Evans from Nova Scotia in Canada, but is set in Dungarvan in Co Waterford.
The song is a very quiet, reflective piece. A man remembers his experiences of this orchard. At nine years, old he recalls climbing over the orchard wall to steal apples At thirteen, his memory is of sitting behind the orchard wall drinking cider and poitin and later hoping that the pain in his head would end soon. At twenty–one, his happiest memory is walking through the apple blossom with his young bride. Now, at the end of the song he is eighty-one, his family long since grown up and away, his wife sadly dead. He looks forward to leaving this life and becoming one with the elements, the wind and the sea and the blossom.
Traditional Irish songs usually have one of a small group of themes—love and death and the land and drinking, particularly drinking. The Orchard manages to incorporate all four of those themes.
What fascinates me about the song is its understanding of time. Time in that song doesn’t move along in a straight line, instead it’s a series of milestones. Perhaps time lasts longer when we are young because the milestones are more frequent, and seems to pass more quickly as we grow older because there are fewer milestones to mark the passage of the journey.
Life is not a simple straight line, there are milestones along the way; there are hills to be climbed and dark valleys to pass through. “There is a time for everything”, says Ecclesiastes, “a time to weep and a time to laugh”. Wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes is recognising that there is a time for everything and acknowledging the things as we come to them.
I think there is a sadness in the song The Orchard because the man in the story only recognises the milestones when he is looking back on his life. I think we are blessed if we recognise our milestones when we reach them.