The Beauty of Death

I wrote a new song this month. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks. I’ll post a video before too long. Let me know in the comments if you get the Henry Vaughan connection.

The Beauty of Death
© Feb. 2017 by Tim Chesterton

The beauty of death is it comes to us all,
To the rich and the poor, to the great and the small.
Every person on earth gets to hear that voice call;
In the end there’s no difference between us.

The justice of death comes to all at the last;
There can be no escape when the die has been cast.
We can run from our deeds but we’re just not that fast –
In the end they will still overtake us

The terror of death, it haunts all our days,
Though we try to avoid it, to keep it away.
But there still come those times of complete disarray
When the dark rises up to engulf us.

The wisdom of death is the light that it casts
On the things that don’t count and the stuff that won’t last,
While the days turn to years and they go by so fast
– too fast for the things that distract us.

The beauty of death is a gift in the end
For the wounds that won’t heal and the hurts that won’t mend;
In the place of a foe we discover a friend
As we lay down the burdens that crush us.

They say a good death is the meaning of life –
To gaze unafraid at that ring of great light.
To rest in God’s love and take joy in the sight
Of the beauty that’s spread out before us –
Of the beauty that’s spread out before us.

The Trouble with Normal

Suddenly, this Bruce Cockburn song from the early 1980s seems horribly relevant again.


Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs — “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the third world trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local third world’s kept on reservations you don’t see
“It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Written by Bruce Cockburn • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Carlin America Inc

‘I’ll Shelter at Your Side’ (on Psalm 57)

O Lord, have mercy on me
In you O God I hide
Beneath the shadow of your wings
I’ll shelter at your side

To God I cry aloud
His plan for me is good
He sends from heaven and rescues me
from those who seek my blood

I hear those lions roar
They’re hungry for my life
their teeth are spears and arrows and
their tongues are sharp as knives

A trap they’ve dug for me
a pit before my feet
But they were caught instead of me
I look on their defeat

Above the brightest heavens
Your name is lifted high
Your glory fills the earth O God
and reaches to the skies

My heart is fixed, O God
You will not let me stray
I’ll wake the dawn to sing your praise
O keep me in your way

I’m singing in the streets
A song of joy and praise
The wonder of your faithful love
I’ll sing through endless days

Above the brightest heavens
Your name is lifted high
Your glory fills the earth O God
and reaches to the skies

© 2016 by Tim Chesterton

‘Patrick Spens’ – a rewrite

You have to have a particular kind of hubris to attempt a rewrite of an iconic traditional folk song like ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, I guess – especially with the ghosts of all who have done it before peering over your shoulder!

There are several older versions of the song in the Child Ballad collection here. Mainly Norfolk has a recording history of the song and a number of later adaptations of the lyrics, including what I think is one of the two best modern versions, by Martin Carthy. The other really excellent modern version is by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, with a tune which I think is their own creation; you can watch them perform it here.

My rewrite owes a lot to Carthy’s wordings, although I have drastically shortened it and changed the story at a couple of points. I’m still working on a tune for it, but it will work well with Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s tune. Here’s my first draft.

Patrick Spens

The king sat in Dunfermline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine
He said, “I need a mariner
To sail this ship of mine.
So send word for Sir Patrick Spens
To come at my command
For he’s the finest mariner
who ever sailed from land”.

When Patrick heard the King’s good word
His face turned grey with fear
“To Norway far we cannot sail,
It’s too late in the year”.
“To Norway you must go for me”
The King gave this decree,
“For you must go to meet my bride
and bring her home to me”.

“Prepare the ship”, Sir Patrick cried,
“We sail all in the morn,
through sun or sleet, through hail or wind,
through fair or deadly storm”.
But up and spoke an old ship’s hand,
“I fear we’ll come to harm
For/I saw the new moon late last night,
The old moon in her arm.”

They had not sailed a day or two,
I’m sure it was not three,
When all around the sky grew dark
And roared the raging sea.
Then Patrick stood on the quarterdeck
And took the helm in hand,
While/the lookout climbed the masthead tall
And tried to find the land.

“Oh make me a web of good sailcloth,
Another web of twine,
And lay them round our good ship’s side
Let not the sea come in”.
So they got a web of good sailcloth,
Another web of twine,
And laid them round the good ship’s side,
But still the sea came in.

Oh the rigging snapped, the topmast cracked,
the spars came crashing down,
And the raging seas swept o’er the ship
and whirled it all around
And the gale blew hard from north north east
So loudly did it sweep,
As Patrick Spens and all his men
Were drowning in the deep.

And long, long the King will sit
His sceptre in his hand
Before he sees Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing back to land.
It’s east by north from Aberdeen
The good ship they must seek,
For/there lies Sir Patrick Spens,
Fifty fathoms deep.


‘Imagine’ Revisited

Following on from this post, I thought I’d have a go at a little spoof:

‘Imagine’ Revisited

Imagine there’s no heaven – it’s easy if you try
Love always ends in graveyards – you have to wonder why
So many suffering people, but that’s all there is to say

Imagine there’s no countries – it isn’t hard to do
The world is ruled by Google – Big Brother’s watching you
Imagine all the websites eating up our days

You may say “It’s a nightmare!” Well you’re not the only one
I think it’s best if you don’t join us, or your world will come undone

Imagine no possessions – I wonder if you can
No one to buy our music – we’’ll need a brand new plan
Imagine all the rock stars begging in the streets

You may say “It’s a nightmare!” Well you’re not the only one
I think it’s best if you don’t join us, or your world will come undone

© 2013 Tim Chesterton


Generous Heart

(c) Tim Chesterton, May 2012

Well I used to work for Ephraim
But that job is long since gone
And so now at six each morning
I walk down into the town
To the/ market where the labourers wait
In hopes of being hired
And the farmers send their foremen
When workers are required.

On a day like any other
I went down at break of dawn
But dozens were ahead of me,
The early jobs were gone
It wasn’t ’til late afternoon
A farmer came my way
But I’d only worked an hour
By the ending of the day.

I expected just a pittance
For the little work I’d done
But the farmer paid me just the same
As those who’d worked since dawn
And when some started grumbling
This was more than I was due.
“His family’s got to eat”, he said,
“An hour’s pay won’t do”.

So I walked home in the evening
My worries laid to rest
For this one night at our house
Our table would be blessed
And I wondered at the farmer
Who’d played a lavish part
And I wondered if the Lord above
Had such a generous heart.

(This is a very rough first draft.)

Hunting Song

When I lived in the Northwest Territories I was lucky enough to make regular trips out on the land with local hunters; those were some of the best experiences of my Arctic days. Sometimes we made one-day trips; at others we stayed out on the land in tents or in cabins. In the latter case we usually travelled out the first day, hunted the second and then came back to town in the dark, arriving home frozen and tired and ready for a hot bath and a hot meal!

This photo was taken on one such trip I made up into the mountains (probably across the border into the Yukon, actually) in the spring of 1988.

This song lyric is an amalgam of some of the trips I took when we lived in Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta. It starts on the second day, waking up in the cabin. The tune doesn’t have a regular time signature; I’ll try to post a recording before too long.

Hunting Song

© April 2012 Tim Chesterton

 Deep in the northern forest
Stars shining bright in a sable sky
Wind in the trees comes whispering through the night

Deep in the heart of winter
Hours yet to pass ‘til the shortness of day
Creatures of night slip silently on their way

I wake in the dark of the cabin
Fire in the woodstove takes the chill off the air
Wood smoke and coffee warming us into dawn

Breakfast of bannock and oatmeal
Kamiks and parkas with wolverine trim
Stillness of morning split by our engines’ roar

Our/snowmobiles follow the river
Snow-covered ice shows the promise of prey
Caribou tracks are leading us on our way

Up on one knee I’m riding
Weight of the rifle across my back
Off in the distance moving specks catch my eye

Speeding toward the horizon
Wind on my face cuts as sharp as a knife
All my pretences finally stripped away

Now in this one vital moment
Food for the winter is all that we know
Crack of the rifles echoes across the snow