Sunday, September 17, 2006

the crane wife

The Crane Wife (Tsuru no Ongaeshi) is an old and popular Japanese folk tale. There are many variants, but the basics of the story revolve around a poor man who finds a wounded crane in the woods. He nurses the crane back to health and eventually the crane flies away.

A few days later a woman appears at the man’s door. They fall in love and they marry. They are poor, but the man’s wife says that she can weave a cloth that will sell for a handsome price – the only condition is that the man can never enter the workroom while she is weaving.

The woman creates a cloth of unmatched quality and the man is able to sell it for a large sum of gold. For a time they are wealthy and happy but then the money runs out. The husband asks his wife to weave again and she agrees. However, before she can complete the cloth he opens the door to see that his wife is the crane and she is weaving the cloth from her own plucked feathers. The crane then flies away.

Different versions emphasize greed and curiosity as the motivation for the husband’s action and a broken promise or the discovery of her secret as the reason the crane flies away, but in all its forms it offers powerful lessons.

The Crane Wife is also the title of the newest album from The Decemberists (pre-order from Amazon) and the inspiration for two of its tracks. In “The Crane Wife 1 and 2” and concluding with “The Crane Wife 3,” Colin Meloy and band mates retell Tsuru no Ongaeshi with beauty and sadness.

You can find The Crane Wife 1 and 2 here and lyrics follow. Before hearing “The Crane Wife 3” tonight on Soundcheck I was only vaguely aware of The Decemberists. I suspect that soon I will be one of their biggest fans. The Crane Wife will be available on October 3.

The Crane Wife 1, 2 and 3 – The Decemberists

1: It was a cold night / And the snow lay low
I pulled my coat tight / Against it falling down
And the sun was all / And the sun was all down

I am a poor man /I haven't wealth nor fame
I have my two hands / And a house to my name
And the winter's so / And the winter's so long
And all the stars were crashing 'round / As I laid eyes on what I'd found

It was a white crane / It was a helpless thing
Upon a red stain / With and arrow in its wing
And it called and cried / And it called and cried so

And all the stars were crashing 'round / As I laid eyes on what I'd found
My crane wife, my crane wife / My crane wife, my crane wife

Now I helped her / And now I dressed her wounds
And how I held her / Beneath the rising moon
And she stood to fly / And she stood to fly away

2: My crane wife / Arrived at my door in the moonlight
All starbright and tongue-tied / I took her in

We were married / And bells rang sweet for our wedding
And our bedding was ready / We fell in

Sound the keening bell / And see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle / The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant / To do was to keep you
My crane wife, my crane wife / My crane wife

We were poorly / Our fortunes fading hourly
And how she loved me / She could bring it back

But I was greedy / I was vain and I forced her to weaving
On a cold loom in a closed room / Down hall

Sound the keening bell / And see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle / The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant / To do was to keep you
My crane wife, my crane wife / My crane wife

There's a bend in the wind / And it rakes at my heart
There is blood in the thread / And it rakes at my heart

3: And under the boughs unbound / All clothed in a snowy shroud
She had no heart so hardened / All under the boughs unbound

Each feather it fell from skin / 'Til threadbare, she grew thin
How were my eyes so blinded? / Each feather it fell from skin

A grey sky, a bitter sting / A raincloud, a crane on wing
All out beyond horizon, oh / A grey sky, a bitter sting

And I will hang my head, hang my head low
And I will hang my head, hang my head low

Bonus link: an illustrated, web-version of
Tsuru no Ongaeshi

5 Comments:

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

You can hear Decemberists in concert @ NPR . There is also a solo concert of Colin Meloy, the lead singer of the group.


Enjoy. :)

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

Repost with actual links

The Decemberists Live
http://www.npr.org/programs/asc/archives/decemberistslive05/

Solo Acoustic Concert from Colin Meloy
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5171264

 
At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really do adore that song, it made my day that I now know the origin of it; the Decemberists are truly fantastic. I love myths and folklore, it seems that they marry the two; brilliant. I was trying to analyse the lyrics on my own, I got that she was trapped, but eventually released by an event she hadn't desired, but nontheless occurred- almost a grass-is-greener on the other side tale, she loses this coat of feathers to become human, but humanity is tainted with greed and treachery, so she reverts to her crane form because of human mistakes. What do you think?

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Bernadette said...

I used to tell this story to my daughter when she was growing up. All I had to go on was memory of a story I knew as a little girl. She came home from her first year at college and introduced me to the Decemberists by way of The Crane Wife. I knew higher education had a purpose! Who knew? The story has been in print for decades! Thanks for listing the lyrics with a great synopsis of the tale. I enjoyed your blog very much.
Bernie

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this song made me cry. what a beautiful story, the delicacy of that white crane. so pure and submissive. and all he wanted was to keep her. all he wanted was to keep her. there is blood in the thread and it rakes at his heart. i will hang my head low.

 

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