Starting to look forward to the Cambridge Folk Festival at the end of the month. Natalie Merchant is headlining on the Saturday night. It’s been  years since I last saw her (Saturday, 11th May 2002 at the Corn Exchange, since you ask – we were in Row F).

She has been quiet now for over 6 years, because she wanted to spend time with her new daughter, Lucia. Over those  years she re-discovered songs and poems written for children by poets of the past two centuries, as she read them to her baby girl.

She put it all together in an album released a couple of months back called Leave Your Sleep. It doesn’t have the heart-wrench of Orphelia but it is a fascinating listen. One of my favourites is the opening song, a setting to music of “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” by Charles Causley (1917-2003). It will help you in what follows to know that his father was killed in WW1 and he was in the Royal Navy during WW2.

Natalie Merchant – Nursery Rhyme Of Innocence And Experience

The poem tells the story of a young boy who offers to trade a silver penny and an apricot tree if a sailor will bring him home a fez from Algeria, an Arab drum to beat, a little gilt sword and a parakeet. The sailor refuses the trade but says he will bring the gifts anyway. Three years pass and eventually a tattered ship returns from the wars, and the sailor says:

O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

But the boy can only reply:

O where is the sailor
With the bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children’s toys?

It made me rummage my bookshelves to find the dusty old copy of the “Penguin Modern Poets” series published in the 1960s to find the one with Causley in it – found it too.

There’s a campaign running to save Charles Causley’s house for posterity. They want to make it serve the purpose that Dove Cottage does for William Wordsworth. By coincidence we stood outside that very place last Saturday after a long walk up a Fell and around Grasmere Lake. Earlier in the day we visited Wordsworth’s grave in the village churchyard.