|Orpheus and Eurydice by Sir Edward John Poynter (19th century)|
Orpheus is prepared to descend to the underworld to bring back his lover, not accepting death as the final act of his love story. But in his refusal to accept Eurydice's death, he confirms its permanence, looking back over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of her ghost materializing behind him. In popular folk narratives, stories in which lovers return from the grave for one final visit are not uncommon. This "one final visit," I believe, can be seen to function in two ways. On the one hand, the ghost returns to comfort their lover and properly say goodbye. On the other hand, it affirms the finality and permanence of death's grip, ending with the ghost vanishing back into the realm of the dead.
|Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (19th century)|
Here is a nice version of the song:
A similar tale is recounted in "The Night Visiting Song" by Luke Kelly:
These are potent stories that emerge across many cultures and historical periods. I recently stumbled across a cajun-French song from Louisiana, "Pa Janvier," performed beautifully by the International Blues Express. The song is a sorrowful appeal to Father January (Pa Janvier), the allegorical figure for winter, whose icy cold wind stole the health and life of a young woman. The song is the lament of the young woman's lover who has survived her, and he pleads with Father January to return to him his love.
They were recorded doing the song by the 78 Project, a husband and wife duo traveling the country recording traditional musicians on a 78 recording machine, very much in the style of Alan Lomax. Take a listen to these incredible musicians (who hail from the American Delta and West Africa) perform the doleful tune for their recording session:
Do you know any night visiting songs? What are your favorite tales of ghost lovers?
Until next time - keep rustling!