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The Fallow Way. November 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). Reading the latest post on Nancy Bond’s lovely and evocative blog, Soliloquy (http://nancybond.wordpress.com/), called “Earth Sinks to Rest,” was too much for me today. You see, “Earth Sinks to Rest” is the title of a poem by someone named Clyde Watson, celebrating November’s passage to winter, and Nancy put the poem up on her blog so we could all appreciate it and its timeless truths.

Reading this poem made me think of how few poems or songs I knew that actually celebrated winter. If poets talked about winter at all, it was usually to mourn our growing old and dying. But that is not what winter is. Seeing this poem on Nancy’s blog reminded me of the most fabulous song, the most incredible paean to winter I know of, Judy Collins’s “The Fallow Way.”

I have loved Judy Collins all my life. My most-beloved mama loved ballads and folksongs, and I’d been raised on them from the cradle. When I first discovered Judy Collins, my mama asked me to sing Judy’s songs for her, and I did on many and many a day and night. But it wasn’t until long after Mama’s untimely passing that I stumbled on Judy’s CD “Judy Collins Forever: An Anthology” and this incredible song.

Dispite my many Judy Collins albums and CDs, I have always thought of her as a singer and interpreter of other people’s music—Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” the old folk ballads like “Maid of Constant Sorrow” and “In the Hills of Shiloh”—rather than as a songwriter in her own right. As I listened to “The Fallow Way,” a haunting folksong celebrating the dormant season and the cyclical return to life in spring, it never occurred to me that Judy had written it herself rather than picking it up from the folk archives. But the music and lyrics wouldn’t leave me, and ultimately I was driven to learn more. And in learning, I discovered that Judy Collins was far wiser—and a far greater songwriter—than I would ever have guessed. 

So now, on the verge of winter, I give you the lyrics to “The Fallow Way.” I urge you to buy Judy Collins’s double CD, “Forever: An Anthology,” where I first encountered it, so you can hear the haunting music yourselves. I tell you, you will never forget it. And you’ll never, ever, watch the arrival of winter the same way again. I only wish my mama were still alive to hear it. But Mama, I sing it for you every winter, and will sing it for you until we’re together once again and forever. For everyone else, here you go:

         The Fallow Way

I will learn to love the fallow way

When winter draws the valley down

And stills the rivers in their storm

And freezes all the little brooks


Time when our steps slow to the song

Of falling flakes and crackling flames

When silver stars are high and still

Deep in the velvet of the sky


The crystal times, the silent times

I’ll learn to love their quietness

While deep beneath the glistening snow

The black earth dreams of violets

I’ll learn to love the fallow way


I’ll learn to love the fallow way

When all my colors fade to white

And flying birds fold back their wings

Upon my anxious wanderings


The sun has slanted all her rays

Across the vast and harvest plains

My mem’ries mingle in the dawn

I dream of joyful vagabonds


The crystal times the silent times

I’ll learn to love their quietness

While deep beneath the glistening snow

The black earth dreams of violets

I’ll learn to love the fallow way


No drummer comes across the plain

To tell of triumph or of pain

No word of far-off battle’s cry

To draw me out or draw me nigh

I’ll learn to love the fallow way


I’ll learn to love the fallow way

And gather in the patient fruits

And after autumn’s blaze and burn

I’ll know the feel of still, deep roots


That nothing seem to know or need

That crack the ice in frozen ponds

And slumbering in winter’s folds

Have dreams of green and blue and gold


I’ll learn to love the fallow way

And listen for the blossoming

Of my own heart once more in spring


As sure as time, as sure as snow

As sure as moonlight, wind and stars

The fallow time will fall away

The sun will bring an April day

And I will yield to Summer’s sway.


1. Gail - November 20, 2008

Just wanted to say that I am heading over to amazon/you tube where ever, to see if I can find this song and listen to it…then I’ll be back to say more! Excellent post…I love your writing!


Thank you, Gail! I know you’ll love it!

2. Gail - November 20, 2008

She was as wonderful as I remember…I forgot that she always made me tear up and still can! You are so right…a good album!

She makes me cry, too, Gail! You need this CD set for “The Fallow Way” and “Hills of Shiloh”! I can’t recall if that other fabulous song, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” is on this double album or not, but like the first two, it is haunting. Happy rediscovery!

3. sampan - November 20, 2008

Thankyou verymuch

Most welcome, Sampan!

4. Benjamin - November 21, 2008

Sitting here trying to rack my brain–winter poems, praise for winter poems…. Nothing. I think it’s more likely to find prose in this vein, but surely Bly, Frost, someone praises winter, if at least romanitcally / sentimentally. I once though about making a book of winter poems; the title of each would be one of the many different names for snow certain northern native Americans have for it. They’d be nice poems, too.

Hey, Benjamin! I think that’s a great idea. Now do it! I once started working on a poem cycle based on the (truly wonderful) chapter titles of an ancient science book, but abandoned the project when some crisis befell, even though I was really enjoying it. Maybe you’ve inspired me to take it up again! There are some lovely poems set in winter in a favorite book, Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, Robert Bly’s translations of some of the poems of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelof, and Tomas Transtromer, though none are about winter itself. Seek and ye shall find. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a little fragment of Transtromer that always cheers me up when I encounter it: “We got ready and showed our home./ The visitor thought: you live well./ The slum must be inside you.”

5. nancybond - November 21, 2008

The crystal times, the silent times

I’ll learn to love their quietness

While deep beneath the glistening snow

The black earth dreams of violets…

I love this song, and love Judy Collins. Beautiful and thanks for the reminder. 🙂

So welcome, Nancy! “The black earth dreams of violets” is one of the great lines of all times!

6. Allen - March 15, 2010

Crying now, listening.

Have loved Judy Collins since 6th Grade when I would pick up “Wildflowers” from the library and pretend I was Joshua Rifkin, directing the orchestra.

52 years later, Judy still touches my heart.

I agree totally, Allen! “The Fallow Way” always brings tears to my eyes as well.

7. Jim - March 18, 2010

I’ve loved Judy Collins a lifetime and for each chapter of my life her music has touched me and helped me move on … I love so many of her songs but “The Fallow Way” touches a place in my heart like few others… Each time I listen I am reminded of life’s cycles and the continuity of life. Thank you Judy for enriching my life!!!!

So true, Jim. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I know.

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