I heard part of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech today on National Public Radio. He said, in short, that lyrics are not meant to be read, but to be heard in the context of the song. Music is not something to be documented, but heard. I could not agree more.
In that spirit listen to Agalloch’s Black Lake Niðstång and read the lyrics without—in Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry—having the top of your head taken off or your blood made so cold that no fire could ever warm you.
When he shifts to the voice of the Niðstång—voice straining, cracking—you can not only see the faces, feel the judgment. You know it to be true.
Written in the waters…
[voice of the dead:]
“Our shadows seep into the dusk
like cranes that melt into the pool;
a black lake in which they descend
pale ghosts caress the Nidstång in the dark
its face scarred by the ages,
its curse sent with heathen breath
to poison the waters of the black lake
We are…we are the faces below the ripples
A deep sorrow travelled through the woods
And found a home in our humble grave”
[voice of the Niðstång:]
“I’ve sent this peril…
To the world; this peril shall spread all sorrows
And you are but gods
watching from below at the base of the totem
in the black temple of the Earth
I am…I am the silence inside the tomb
You created the stars
and gave birth to all the heavens;
the darkness of space and time
So go…go to the nightside end below”
Where have all the noble cranes gone?
Where have all the stags disappeared to?
Piled below in the tomb of this burdened pool
a curse to those who corrupt these sacred woods
a curse to those who taste this solemn water
No unhallowed breath shall seal a fate before me
Join the drowned in the silence of the black lake’s womb
Accursed…written in the waters…